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Manchin called out on minimum wage stance

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., center, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., right walk on Capitol Hill in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021, on the fifth day of the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WHEELING — The Poor People’s Campaign is calling out U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin for his stated opposition to the Biden Administration’s request to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Manchin, D-W.Va., has instead suggested raising the minimum wage over time in increments, or allowing states to set their own minimum wage.

“We’re not interested in compromise — $15 an hour is our compromise,” said the Rev. William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s campaign. “In West Virginia, it (a living wage) would be $23 an hour.”

Manchin met with the Poor People’s Campaign and members of the Service Employees International Union via the internet Thursday, but was not part of a virtual press conference the group had after the meeting.

The Poor People’s Campaign had planned to travel to West Virginia to picket Manchin’s office but they canceled due to icy weather.

They still plan to make the trip in the coming days, he said.

“This is very serious business. We’re not backing up on this,” Barber said. “The workers are very clear on this. They are pushing for $15 as a minimum wage.”

He said the issue of earning a livable wage isn’t a political issue, but a human issue.

“Democrats ran on this, they put it in their platform and said this needs to happen,” Barber said. “It has been pushed for years. It would be an ultimate abandonment and betrayal to get here and have the power to do it, and not do it.”

Racial equality can’t happen without economic equality, he said. Barber equated the need for raising the minimum wage with the importance of The New Deal Act during the Great Depression, and the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts of 1965.

“This is our economic Selma,” he said.

The Poor People’s Campaign also had several West Virginia residents who worked low-wage jobs on the video conference, discussing their experiences and the difficulty of providing for both themselves and their families.

Fayette County resident Pam Garrison said she has been a low-wage worker all her life and that has never been enough to care for her family. She wondered why, if the COVID relief bill is a rescue package, why anyone would want to remove what she considers the biggest act of rescue.

“I think he heard our side, but I think he was still wrestling (with it),” she said, “because he brought up to us that businesses couldn’t absorb it and things like that.”

Manchin’s office is encouraging the public to speak its thoughts on the issue of raising the minimum wage.

“Having grown up in the small coal-mining town of Farmington, Senator Manchin understands the challenges facing working West Virginians and small business owners,” said Sam Runyon, communications director for Manchin.

“He appreciated the opportunity to meet with Bishop Barber and members of the Poor People’s Campaign to discuss the issues most important to them.

“As always, he encourages West Virginians to exercise their First Amendment right by continuing to reach out to their elected representatives to share their concerns,” she said.

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