This week, the minimum wage debate heated up in Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington. The American Booksellers Association is encouraging its members in those areas and elsewhere to reach out to town, county, or state officials to ensure they have a voice in any minimum wage discussions that take place in their communities.
- Colorado: Minimum Wage Increase Likely to Be on November Ballot
- Connecticut: At Hearing, Low Wage Workers Urge State to Increase Minimum Wage to $15
- Maryland: Baltimore Mulling Minimum Wage Increase
- Minnesota: State Democratic Lawmakers Want Higher Minimum Wage
- Washington State: Minimum Wage Increase Will Be on November Ballot; Report Shows Seattle’s Minimum Wage Increase Cost Jobs
On Monday, July 25, Colorado Families for a Fair Wage turned in the 200,000 petition signatures required to put a minimum wage increase on the November ballot, as reported by KJCT8.com. The Secretary of State’s Office must now verify the signatures. The ballot initiative, if verified and approved, would increase wages gradually each year to reach $12 by 2020. The current state minimum wage is $8.31.
“We have people working full time living in poverty and we want to change that,” Patty Kupfer, campaign manager of Colorado Families for a Fair Wage, told KJCT8.com. “Wages just have not kept up with the cost of living.”
However, opponents of the measure argue that the increase will hurt small businesses. John Brackney of Keep Colorado Working said, “Minimum wage employees have had a 61 percent increase in the last decade and, if this passes, it will be another 44 percent increase, which is damaging to small businesses,” as reported by KJCT8.com. “An employer will choose to have fewer employees, not have as good of customer service, or increase their cost to the consumer.”
“We think it’s smart and fair,” Kupfer told KJCT8.com. “We anticipate it will grow the economy in small businesses and see our communities thrive.”
On Wednesday, July 20, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the state’s Low Wage Employer Advisory Board — a 13-member task force established to advise Connecticut’s Department of Labor on the impact of low wages and minimum wage on the state and community, among other issues — held a hearing on increasing the minimum wage. It is the advisory board’s third hearing on the minimum wage, as reported by NPR.
The board heard testimony from low-wage workers, state legislators, and community leaders. Deshawn Brownel, who works security at a state site in Newington and who testified before the wage board, told NPR that $15 an hour would give people a lot of independence. “And what I mean by independence,” Brownel said, “is the freedom to have some purchasing power — not a whole lot, but a little bit. Or just to free themselves from some of their bills, because if you’re robbing Peter to give to Paul all the time, you’re never getting ahead, or you’ll never be able to save.”
Brownel is a member of SEIU, a union backing a movement to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
Meanwhile, Eric Gjede, an attorney and lobbyist for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association who is submitting written testimony to the Wage Board, told NPR that the problem with legislating the minimum wage is that businesses will have to make cuts.
“I want people to be able to make more money,” Gjede said, “and the only way that that happens is when businesses are doing well. And when they have to start competing with other businesses for labor. So if businesses are doing well they can afford more to other people.” He noted that improving Connecticut’s business climate is the best way to get employers to raise wages.
With the Baltimore City Council divided over a measure that would gradually increase the city’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020, the city’s business owners are contemplating what impact the increase might have should it ultimately be passed, the Baltimore Sun reported.
Last April, Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke introduced the $15 per hour wage bill, but the article notes that council members are currently split on the measure. While Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the city’s mayor, has not formally opposed the measure, the city’s Finance Department projects that the proposed wage change would increase the unemployment rate to as high as 10.6 percent, the Sun article noted.
“It’s a rapid jump to $15,” said Keith Scott, president and CEO of the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce, which has more than 500 member businesses. “You’ve got to look at the minimum wage and make sure you raise it in a way businesses can handle it.”
Cathy Schneider, president of the Greater Catonsville Chamber of Commerce and owner of Edible Arrangements franchises in Catonsville and Elkridge, told the Sun: “For a small business owner, $15 is a lot to give. When you’re a franchise like me, when the costs are dictated to you, that would kill me.”
On Monday, August 1, as part of a law signed by Gov. Mark Dayton in 2014, Minnesota’s minimum wage will increase to $9.50 for employers with gross revenues of more than $500,000 per year and to $7.75 for the state’s small employers. As of 2018, the state’s minimum wage is slated to increase annually to match inflation; however, Democratic legislators think the wage should be higher, as reported by the Duluth News Tribune.
Lt. Gov. Tina Smith told the News Tribune that more work is needed on behalf of low-wage workers in the state. “More than half of minimum-wage workers are women; raising the minimum wage improves the lives of thousands of Minnesota families.”
Many Democrats who want the wage to increase above the current rates said it will be difficult to enact a change given the Republican majority in the Minnesota House of Representatives.
In Washington State, voters will decide this November on whether to increase the minimum wage to $13.50 an hour gradually over four years, as reported by the Peninsula Daily News. If approved, the increase would begin in 2017 by raising the statewide minimum wage to $11 per hour.
On Friday, July 22, Washington’s Secretary of State office made the announcement that supporters of Ballot Initiative 1433 had garnered the requisite valid signatures to make the November 8 general election ballot.
After 2017, the wage would increase to $11.50 in 2018, $12 in 2019, and reach $13.50 an hour in 2020. The ballot initiative would also provide one hour of paid sick leave per 40 hours worked to employees who currently are not offered sick leave by their employers, the article noted.
Those who oppose the initiative worry that it could harm small businesses. Business groups, including the Association of Washington Business, the Washington Restaurant Association, and the Washington Farm Bureau, issued a statement last Wednesday expressing their disappointment that “a thoughtful middle ground” could not be found through the legislative process.
“We want to create opportunities for everyone to succeed without jeopardizing job retention and growth, particularly in rural communities,” wrote Association of Washington Business President Kris Johnson.
Rosa Wiess, who runs Clear Choice Tax Services, Inc., told KXLY.com that the wage increase will have a significantly negative impact on small businesses. “People don’t realize that as a startup especially or a small business, you’re the last person that gets paid,” Weiss said. “The people that I work with are generally good-natured people who really just want to do a good job, and they want to help support the families of their employees, but many of them just can’t afford it.”
The increase in Seattle’s minimum wage to $15 had unintended, negative side effects on hours and employment that “muted the impact on labor earnings,” according to the University of Washington’s recently released report “The Impact of Seattle’s Minimum Wage Ordinance on Wages, Workers, Jobs, and Establishments Through 2015.” Because the Seattle economy is booming, however, the strong macroeconomy has led to improved outcomes for low-wage workers, the study noted.
The authors of the study report: “The major conclusion one should draw from this analysis is that the Seattle Minimum Wage Ordinance worked as intended by raising the hourly wage rate of low-wage workers…. Yet, our best estimates find that the Seattle Minimum Wage Ordinance appears to have lowered employment rates of low-wage workers. This negative unintended consequence (which are predicted by some of the existing economic literature) is concerning and needs to be followed closely in future years, because the long-run effects are likely to be greater as businesses and workers have more time to adapt to the ordinance.”
The study also found that:
- The median wages for low-wage workers (those earning less than $11 per hour during the second quarter of 2014) rose by $1.18 per hour “and we estimate that the impact of the ordinance was to increase these workers’ median wage by $0.73 per hour.”
- The impact of the ordinance was a 1.1 percentage point decrease in likelihood of low-wage Seattle workers remaining employed.