Minimum wage bills move in Senate but stall in House
A key state Senate committee has passed a bill to increase the state minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2019, but three other bills to incrementally raise the state minimum wage have been deferred in the House. Sen. Karl Rhoads said Senate Bill 107 was prompted by concern about Hawaii’s high cost of living.
“The guys on the bottom of the totem pole need the minimum wage increase a lot just to survive,” said Rhoads (D, Downtown-Nuuanu-Liliha). “Will there be any decrease in employment because of this? The evidence at this point is if there’s any effect, it’s very minor. What I’m really trying to do is protect those guys at the low end of the economic scale.” Rhoads’ bill would increase the minimum wage from $9.25 an hour today to $12.25 by Jan. 1, 2018, and to $15 on Jan. 1, 2019.
SB 107 will also authorize the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations to adjust the minimum wage after 2019 as the regional consumer price index fluctuates.
Monica Ryan, owner of the restaurant Highway Inn, opposed the bill. She said in written testimony that if the proposed wage increases were ratified, one serving of laulau at her restaurant would cost a customer $15.42 by 2022. The current price of laulau at Highway Inn is $6.95, Ryan said. Cameron Sato, a member of the board of directors of Americans for Democratic Action, supported SB 107. He cited the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s living-wage calculator, which indicates a worker needs to earn at least $14.66 an hour to make ends meet in Honolulu and $13.74 an hour elsewhere in the state.
SB 107 was approved Tuesday by the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor, and now goes to the Senate Ways and Means Committee for consideration. However, similar minimum
wage proposals in the House appear to be failing. The House Committee on Labor and Public Employment on Tuesday considered three minimum wage bills — House Bills 442, 5 and 1433 — but deferred them all. Rep. Aaron Johanson (D, Fort Shafter-Moanalua Gardens-Aliamanu), who serves as chairman of the House Labor Committee, explained that he wants to see how recent increases in the minimum wage will affect the economy before boosting it further.
The Hawaii minimum wage was increased 75 cents to $9.25 an hour Jan. 1. Rep. Roy Takumi (D, Pearl City-Waipio-Pearl Harbor) suggested the state investigate the model of the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to see how a major wage increase might play out in Hawaii. Most workers at the airport now earn above $15 an hour, according to the Seattle Times.
Johanson said the state can help workers in ways other than continuing to raise the minimum wage, including providing tax relief for low- and middle-income individuals.
“That broadly uplifts those people who need it,” Johanson said. “We passed a sick-leave bill which would also broadly uplift the worker. I think leave policy, whether it’s paid sick leave or an extension of family leave, has the ability to broadly help workers, perhaps even more broadly than a minimum wage increase.”
Several restaurant managers submitted testimony regarding the difficulties the House bills would impose on their businesses through rising labor costs.
Karl Rhoads: He said Senate Bill 107 was created to help those “on the bottom of the totem pole” ———