By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor
As President Barack Obama highlighted his plan to sign an executive order raising the minimum wage for federal contract workers, Kentucky’s bishops issued a statement calling for fair compensation and worker justice in Kentucky.
The Catholic Conference of Kentucky, the public policy arm of the state’s four bishops, released the statement Jan. 28.
“Throughout the history of the social teachings of the church, the right of all people to fair compensation for their labor has been upheld as an essential element of a just society,” the statement says. “As early as the late 19th century, Pope Leo XIII recognized the principle that workers should be paid a wage sufficient to support a family as ‘a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man.’ ”
The bishops note that the 2014 General Assembly is considering measures that addresses minimum wages and healthy work environments. They are asking lawmakers to give the proposals serious consideration.
“We urge our lawmakers to support final measures that will treat Kentucky’s workers fairly while sustaining local businesses and the jobs they provide,” the statement said.
“A full-time worker earning the state’s current minimum wage of $7.25 earns little more than $15,000 annually, hardly enough to pay for food and rent, let alone support a family,” the bishops explain. “More than 88 percent of the state’s low-wage earners are adults, and 27.7 percent are parents trying to provide the necessities of life for their children. They deserve the comfort of knowing that their hard work can provide the means they need to achieve economic stability for themselves and their families.”
Specifically, the bishops support House Bill 1, which aims to raise the minimum wage in Kentucky gradually in the course of three years. It would rise to $8.10 per hour on July 1. A year later, the minimum wage would increase to $9.15 per hour and on July 1, 2016, it would rise to $10.10 per hour.
This bill was expected to be heard by the House labor and industry committee tomorrow.
The bishops also said they would support legislation to require paid sick leave for low-wage earners who, they said, sometimes must choose between going to work sick or losing a day’s wages.
“As one of the state’s largest private social service provider, we witness in our Catholic ministries the painful reality of those who struggle to keep up with the basic costs of food, rent, utilities and transportation,” the statement says. “This desperate cycle cannot end unless we as a society find a way to give all capable men and women the chance to work at a job through which they can live with true independence and dignity. While we hope one day the issue of raising the minimum wage will be addressed at the federal level, we cannot afford to wait in Kentucky.”