Louisiana joining in essential national labor reform

Adam Tannenbaum, Staff Writer

This is an opinion article and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo.

On March 31, the Louisiana State Senate Labor Committee passed a piece of legislation that will raise that state’s minimum wage to $8 from the federal minimum of $7.25. This policy will transfer Louisiana, a state that has notoriously been behind the curve when it comes to passing labor reform, out of a group of five states that relies on the federal government to set its minimum wage.

This is a triumphant and historic victory for first-term governor John Bel Edwards, who is sending a clear message that Louisiana no longer intends to lag behind the rest of the nation when it comes to reforming its labor policy. Instead, it will take a more progressive view that most of the nation has already adopted, while continuing to work toward making sure that all full-time workers who work for a minimum wage make enough income to stay above the poverty line.

The policy is controversial, especially in a state that has not voted to send a Democratic candidate to the White House since 1996. Raising the minimum wage in Louisiana is appropriate and will go a long way for paving a path for the state to become stronger regarding labor reform.

A strong and sensible counterargument to raising the state’s minimum wage is that we live in a capitalist society where businesses should be free to dictate how they wish to pay workers. But even in a prospering capitalist economy, Adam Smith’s invisible hand should still be put to work. After the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City in the early 20th century, labor laws were passed that ensured that workers were guaranteed safe and apt working conditions. Over the last century, the United States made decisions to pass labor policies appropriate with America’s views as we have become a more humane and just society.

The American economy should, without a doubt, be based on free market capitalistic principles, but that does not mean we cannot simultaneously take care of the less fortunate and vulnerable. Jon Bel Edwards made an astute point that we should not “think that the only people who are working for minimum wage in Louisiana are high school students.”

In America, no matter the political leaning of a state, it should be every state legislator’s duty to do whatever they can to ensure that all income groups have the chance to earn an hourly wage reflective of the cost of living. This is both in our civil and long-term economic interests. The idea of accommodating all does not interfere with the free-market principles that our society is based on; it just ensures that every working American that is paid the bare minimum will be given the opportunity to make a living wage that they can sufficiently live on.

Though the $8 hourly rate that the Louisiana State Legislature passed is a far cry from a sustainable hourly wage that keeps the lowest paid full-time workers in Louisiana above the poverty line, it is progress. Just like how the Progressive Era of the early 20th century brought about the biggest period of labor reform in any fixed amount of time that our country has ever experienced, total transformation will not happen overnight but through proper small and incremental adjustments made to our system.

In order to achieve long-term labor reform in how we pay all workers in every state throughout the country, we must celebrate progress while continuing to work toward more overarching reform by taking small baby steps that will help lead to tremendous improvements in how workers at all levels are paid in America in the end. This increase in minimum wage in such a conservative state is one such step, and an incredibly important one at that.

Adam Tannenbaum is a senior in the A.B. Freeman School of Business. He can be reached at [email protected].