COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM ACT OF 2006--Continued -- (Senate - May 22, 2006)
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I thought there were certain values in this Senate upon which we could agree. If you work hard in this country, you shouldn't live a life of poverty. We have been trying to raise the minimum wage--which is $5.15 an hour--trying to raise that for over 9 years, and our Republican friends, including the Senator from Georgia, have been opposed to it.
Look what this bill does. The current farm wage is $10.11; for an agricultural job, it is $7.86; and the Chambliss amendment is below the minimum wage. Not only is it below the minimum wage, but he specifically writes in his amendment that it will be below the minimum wage and State minimum wages will apply when they apply. But Georgia does not have a State minimum wage.
I don't know what the Senator from Georgia has against someone working for $7.86 an hour. The cost of gas has gone through the roof. The cost of food has gone through the roof. A gallon of milk is $3.09 a gallon; eggs, $1.39; a loaf of bread is $3.29; a pound of hamburger is $3.99. And the Senator from Georgia, if we follow his suggestion, is driving wages down, not up.
This is $7.86 an hour to try to get along. What we are trying to do is reduce the disparity. The Senator from Georgia said we were not involved in this. Well, we have 400 different organizations indicating to the Senate their support. We have broad support. More than 60 Members, Republicans and Democrats, cosponsored it, to bring it up to $7.86. But no, the Senator from Georgia wants this down to what some people have said is paid to pieceworkers, $3 or $4 an hour. Three or four dollars an hour? We might not have many farmers in Massachusetts, but whoever we have in Massachusetts understands below poverty wages, and $3 or $4 an hour for piecework is a poverty wage. It is wrong.
If it is so troublesome that they are going to get paid $7.86, if Members are so worked up about that, if Members think that is too much for someone who works hard, for someone who does some of the most difficult work in this country, go ahead and vote for the Chambliss amendment.
Mr. President, $7.86, when these workers have to pay $3 to get a gallon of gasoline? Talk about fairness. I listen to the Senator from Georgia. Let's talk about fairness. Let's talk about equity. Let's talk about treating everyone the same. They will be treated the same, but they will be treated mighty shabbily. This is a question of respect for those workers. Do you respect them in the United States, these hard-working people? Finally, about 20 percent of agricultural workers are Americans. You will depress their wages, too? Evidently. I hope we are not going to be about that at this time in this debate and discussion.
I noticed that on page 2, the Senator talks about the prevailing wage, the occupation, and the applicable State minimum wage. Is there a State minimum wage in Georgia, I ask the Senator?
Mr. CHAMBLISS. The minimum wage in Georgia is $5.15 an hour.
Mr. KENNEDY. In agriculture?
Mr. CHAMBLISS. Yes.
Mr. KENNEDY. The State minimum wage in agriculture is $5.15 an hour. Am I right that there is no way that even those who are picking per bushel would go below $5.15 an hour?
Mr. CHAMBLISS. What happens is these wage earners in the fields in Georgia and all over the country go out and they take a bucket out into the field. They cut squash, cucumbers, or they cut whatever the crop may be, they put it in that bucket, they dump that bucket in a bin, and they are given a chip. At the end of the day, those chips add up to dollars. They are required to be paid the minimum of either the minimum wage or, in this case, the adverse effect wage rate.
Mr. KENNEDY. I understand I may be wrong, and I wish the Senator from Georgia would correct me, the State minimum wage does not apply to agricultural workers. That is my understanding. If I am wrong, I hope the Senator will correct me. My understanding is the State minimum wage does not apply to agricultural workers.
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, no matter how you slice it, this is a major cut for workers with the Chambliss amendment, No. 1.
No. 2, we are trying to remedy the situation between documented and undocumented workers. We hear we have to do this because we are forced to have illegal workers. We are changing all of that. We are putting in place a system so we will have verification.
We do believe this figure, the $7.86, for workers who work hard, play by the rules, and are trying to provide for their families, is not unfair, at a minimum. That is why I hope the Chambliss amendment will be defeated.
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