MILWAUKEE — A labor group sued Republican Gov. Scott Walker on Monday to force him to raise the minimum wage — and to draw attention a week before the Nov. 4 election to his refusal to do so thus far.
Walker dismissed the lawsuit filed by the liberal Raise WI as nothing more than a "raw, cheap political stunt."
"If they were serious about this, they would have done it six months or a year ago," Walker said during a campaign stop Monday morning in Middleton. "The fact it's being done now is nothing more than to augment the Washington, D.C., money being spent on attack ads to try and drive this issue up."
Raise WI filed the lawsuit on behalf of about 100 workers who previously submitted complaints to the Department of Workforce Development, saying the state's $7.25 per hour minimum was too low. The workers cited a Wisconsin law that requires them to be paid a "living wage," defined as "compensation to maintain himself or herself under conditions consistent with his or her welfare."
The lawsuit filed in Madison says the labor department didn't adequately consider the workers' complaints before dismissing them on Oct. 6. It asks a judge to order Walker to convene a wage council to consider what would be a living wage.
At least four of the workers are homeless, the lawsuit says. Others can't afford heat, food or medical care.
"These underpaid workers who filed these complaints are not looking to get rich, they are not talking about wanting to, you know, buy a Lexus or invest in an offshore business in the Cayman Islands. What they are talking about is being able to afford basic needs," said Jennifer Addison, executive director of the labor group Wisconsin Jobs Now, which is a partner in Raise WI.
Many of the workers who filed complaints already earn more than minimum wage — up to $15.07 per hour in at least one case, said John Dipko, spokesman for the Department of Workforce Development. He had not yet seen the lawsuit but said the department would decide what to do after receiving formal notice.
According to the lawsuit, even workers making more than minimum wage are struggling. For example, fast food worker Motise Reynolds, of Madison, earns $9.50 per hour but needs food stamps to feed himself and his daughter, the suit says.
The last increase in Wisconsin's minimum wage was in July 2009. Walker's opponent in the Nov. 4 election, Democrat Mary Burke, supports raising it to $10.10 per hour.
Associated Press writer Scott Bauer contributed to this report from Middleton, Wisconsin.