United Methodists help raise Arkansas minimum wage
May 31, 2006
The Rev. Steve Copley
By Clayton Childers*
WASHINGTON (UMNS) — Arkansas workers laboring at the nation’s minimum
wage level will get a raise in October thanks to United Methodists in the state
who helped lead the way in advocating for an increase.
Most states have not had an increase in the $5.15 an hour minimum wage since
1997. In Arkansas, workers will start earning $6.25.
The United Methodist Board of Church and Society
hosted a luncheon May 15 at the United Methodist Building in Washington celebrating
the minimum wage
victory in Arkansas. The Rev. Steve Copley, a leading figure in the “Give
Arkansas a Rai$e” campaign and pastor of First United Methodist Church,
North Little Rock, Ark., was the guest speaker.
“The religious community was key,” Copley said. “When leaders
from local churches, both lay and clergy, as well as bishops and other leaders
from a wide spectrum of the state’s faith community united behind the
effort, it created a powerful voice for change.”
A broad coalition of partner organizations, including
the Arkansas Interfaith Council, denominational leaders, labor unions and
came together to form the heart of the “Give Arkansas a Rai$e” campaign.
Hours were spent over several meetings, hammering
out language for a ballot initiative to be presented at the polls. A similar
last year in Florida, where citizens voted to raise their state’s minimum
wage by $1.00 an hour, indexed each year to inflation. “Members of our
committee thought: If they can do it in Florida, why not Arkansas?” Copley
The next step was to raise awareness and build support for the initiative.
“We needed to develop some momentum,” he said. “A huge break
came when we were able to get money to conduct a statewide poll of citizen’s
views. I really have to give credit to the Darraugh Foundation for providing
the resources to conduct the poll.”
Poll results showed overwhelming support for an
increase in the minimum wage: 87 percent of Arkansans expressed support for
wage increase, and
88 percent agreed with the statement, “It is wrong for people to work
hard, full time, and live in poverty.”
A second important break in the Arkansas campaign
came when the state business community called the “Give Arkansas a Rai$e” coalition
leadership and indicated its support.
The committee welcomed this development and began to work with state lawmakers
on possible language that they could support. The increase passed overwhelmingly,
with only three lawmakers in the 135-member Arkansas Legislature opposing it.
Minimum wage battle
The U.S. Congress continues to debate proposals
to increase the national minimum wage but has not been able to agree on a
have begun to take matters
into their own hands. Arkansas joins 20 other states and the District of Columbia
that have passed higher minimum wage laws. In some states, such as Florida,
the wage is indexed to inflation, so that each year the state’s poorest
workers see an automatic increase.
A person working full time, 40 hours a week, every
week of the year, at $5.15 an hour will make about $10,700 a year. That’s
significantly below the national poverty line of $13,020 for a family of
one child and one adult.
|Image courtesy of the U.S. Department of Labor
map shows the different minimum wage laws by state. Green: Wage is
higher than the federal (includes Alaska and Hawaii). Blue: Same as the
federal. Red: Lower than the federal. Yellow: No minimum wage law.
The United Methodist Church calls on all employers
to “pay their employees a wage that does not require them to depend upon government subsidies such
as food stamps or welfare for their livelihood,” according to Paragraph
163.IV.E of the denomination’s Social Principles, found in the Book
“We believe the current minimum wage is grossly inadequate,” said
John Hill, director of economic and environmental justice for the Board of
Church and Society, the denomination’s social advocacy agency. “A
job should keep people out of poverty, not in it. This tears at our social
fabric; it undermines our social contract; it is an affront to our understanding
of the United States as a land of opportunity. People who work should be paid
enough to live a life of dignity.”
Copley said many “heroes helped bring this victory to fruition.”
“Bishop Charles Crutchfield, Arkansas Area,
and retired Bishop Felton May, now serving at Philander Smith College, were
from the beginning.
The Arkansas Conference United Methodist Women met with our coalition and helped
educate women about the need for this change. Doni Martin and the Arkansas
Conference Board of Church and Society were very supportive. Rev. Bob Edgar
of the National Council of Churches of Christ and Paul Sherry of the Let Justice
Roll campaign were also influential.”
Others proved less supportive.
“Though most of the business community supported the effort, there were
some in the restaurant industry that were opposed,” Copley said. “We
were also disappointed that Wal-Mart, in the end, did not support the measure,
even though we tried to make the case that more money in hands of the working
poor would be a benefit to them.”
This is an important victory. It’s huge,” said Jim Winkler, top
staff executive of the Board of Church and Society. “This shows that
the church can again make a significant contribution to the lives of the
least of these among us that Jesus talked about.
“People are hurting,” Winkler continued, “and it is an embarrassment
that every year for last nine years, the working poor are earning, in real
terms, less and less each and every year. It is not only an embarrassment,
it is an injustice. It is exciting to see the Arkansas’ faith community
step up and say enough is enough and do something about it.”
*Childers is the director of annual conference relations for the Board of
Church and Society.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or