Frances Perkins would support raising Maine’s minimum wage

Frances Perkins would support raising Maine’s minimum wage

When my grandmother, Frances Perkins, was invited by FDR to be his Secretary of Labor after he was elected president in 1932, she was not at all sure that taking on the job was a good idea.

She had established a comfortable life for herself and her family in New York City. She had a good job and good friends. So, as she prepared to meet with FDR to discuss becoming his Secretary of Labor, she decided to shoot for the proverbial moon. If she was going to take the job, she would ask him for his blessing to implement a number of her ideas that she believed would move the country toward greater social justice and economic security. She had made a list, literally on the back of an envelope.

High on her wish list was the nation’s first minimum wage for the working men and women of the United States. She felt it was important for workers to earn a livable wage and she realized that it would also benefit the economy if people had some money to spend. Also on her list were policies we now take for granted like workman’s compensation and unemployment insurance.

The President gave his blessing and support for the items on her list and she became the first woman to serve in a U.S. Presidential Cabinet, starting in FDR’s first term in 1933 and serving for his entire presidency, until his death in 1945. She and Harold Ickes, who served as secretary of the interior, were the only two Cabinet members to serve the entire duration of FDR’s Presidency.

Early on, my grandmother pushed for the very first minimum wage legislation. She recognized that this was an important step to move the country toward less economic disparity and increasing the spending power of the consumer base that has become the engine of our economy. Through a series of strategic steps, she was able to establish a federal minimum wage for contractors working on federal government bids, which became known as “fair labor standards.” The National Recovery Act, which she subsequently helped to draft and organize, included minimum wage guidelines.

When the first federal minimum wage took effect in 1938, it was 25 cents per hour. With bipartisan support, the federal minimum went up steadily into the late Sixties. But that growth has stalled, even as the cost of living continues to increase. In real dollars, the current minimum wage is lower now than it was in 1968.

My grandmother’s father was born on the family homestead in Newcastle, Maine. She loved the state and often came here to visit her grandmother at the family place, which became a treasured retreat from public life for her, later in life. Earlier this year, her Newcastle homestead became a National Historic Landmark.

Were she alive today, my grandmother would support continuing the progress of bringing the wages of working people up to a fair level. I know she would support the Maine People’s Alliance’s referendum to raise Maine’s minimum wage and I, as I am sure she would be doing, add my voice to those who are calling for an increase in Maine’s minimum wage.

Let’s get Maine’s minimum wage up to a reasonable level to make living manageable, given the cost of living in today’s economic climate.

You can learn more about my grandmother and her career at: www.FrancesPerkinsCenter.org

About author

Tomlin Perkins Coggeshall
Tomlin Perkins Coggeshall 1 posts

Tomlin Coggeshall is the grandson of former Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins and founder of the Frances Perkins Center in Newcastle, Maine.

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