Business, labor lobby Senate on wage bill Both groups focus ads, calls on undecideds on eve of floor vote

July 08, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- On the eve of a crucial Senate vote to raise the federal minimum wage for millions of workers, organized labor and business groups are waging an all-out lobbying campaign to influence the outcome.

Over the holiday weekend, the AFL-CIO spent nearly $100,000 for 60-second radio ads directed at senators in at least four states. Local union members also began calling senators in about 10 states, urging the same message: Approve an increase in the hourly wage to $5.15 from $4.25 and defeat a Republican amendment that Democrats say will gut the first rise in six years.

Meanwhile, the National Retail Federation and the National Federation of Independent Businesses are rallying their members to call, fax or write senators in eight states who are undecided on the amendment, which business groups support.

The amendment would exempt businesses with less than $500,000 in sales a year from the increase, allow employers to pay all new workers a subminimum wage of $4.25 for their first six months of employment, and delay the effective date of an increase to Jan. 1.

"It is our last chance and best hope for stopping the minimum wage increase this year," John J. Motley III, a senior vice president at the Retail Federation, said of the campaign in a confidential July 1 memorandum to executives in his organization.

President Clinton has promised to veto a bill including any of the three "poison pill" provisions, arguing that they would deny a wage increase to as many as 10 million workers.

The Senate is scheduled to begin debate on the bill today and vote on it and the amendments tomorrow. The votes are expected to be close, particularly on the Republican amendment.

The issue has served labor and Democrats well since they raised it in March. Few people then gave supporters of the wage increase much chance of pushing the measure through the Republican-controlled Congress this year.

But the issue has proved to be a powerful political club against Republicans, including presidential candidate Bob Dole, who until his retirement from the Senate worked to block the wage increase from coming to a vote.

Labor groups hope that their current campaign yields the same results that a $2 million television and radio ad effort helped achieve among House members earlier this year. Of the 20 House members whose support the AFL-CIO sought to gain in three rounds of ads, half voted with the majority in May, 281 to 144, to approve the wage increase.

If the Senate bill comes to a straight vote there, a clear majority favors raising the minimum wage. The real battle will be fought over the amendment, to be offered by Sen. Christopher S. Bond, the Missouri Republican who is chairman of the Small Business Committee.

Without exempting small business and delaying the effective date, "an increase in the minimum wage will hurt America's smallest businesses and will eliminate opportunities for the workers they might otherwise employ," Bond said last week.

According to the memo from Motley of the National Retail Federation, his organization is seeking to influence four Democratic senators and eight Republican senators who are undecided on the Bond amendment. The four Democrats are Dale Bumpers and David Pryor of Arkansas and Bob Kerrey and Jim Exon of Nebraska.

The eight Republicans are Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, William S. Cohen and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, Alfonse M. D'Amato of New York, Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Larry Pressler of South Dakota and James M. Jeffords of Vermont.

The AFL-CIO would not identify which four to five senators labor was hoping to influence with radio ads.

Pub Date: 7/08/96

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