Minimum Wage Roundup

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Here is a look at some of this week’s minimum wage stories from around the country. The American Booksellers Association is encouraging its members 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.

Florida: Columnist Calls for Reasoned Minimum Wage Increase

A Tampa Bay Times columnist, citing identical legislation in Florida’s House of Representatives and Senate that would increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour, called for a reasonable and measured approach to increasing the minimum wage. Under the minimum wage bill introduced in the House by Victor Torres (D-Orlando) and Hazelle Rogers (D-Lauderhill), and in the Senate by Sen. Dwight Bullard (D-Miami), the state’s wage would immediately increase to $15 per hour upon enactment. The current minimum wage in the state is $8.05 per hour.

The Times columnist, John Romano, noted that 11 years ago Floridians voted in favor of an amendment to the state Constitution that increased the minimum wage and added a cost-of-living mechanism that would increase the rate annually when appropriate. “The governor’s spokesman said it would cost jobs,” Romano wrote. “The head of the state’s restaurant association said it would devastate the industry…. None of this came to pass, of course.” Instead of costing jobs, the unemployment rate went down in the first year of the new minimum wage.

Pointing to the bills in the House and Senate, Romano stressed: “What [the 2004 minimum wage increase] tells us is that measured and reasonable increases in the minimum wage can benefit our most struggling citizens without being a drag on the economy.”

That said, a $15 minimum wage is “neither measured nor reasonable,” he wrote, explaining that the wage was “too much and too soon for Florida.” Importantly, that wage level is “dangerous” because it lets legislators simply dismiss discussion of any wage increase since the $15 per hour argument is “such a nonstarter.”

Romano believes the legislature should be discussing a $1 to $2 per hour increase, which would “put Florida near the top 10 states in the nation for minimum wage.”

Iowa: Governor Would Consider Wage Increase

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) recently said he would consider signing a minimum wage increase if the state legislature passes one, according to the Gazette. Iowa’s minimum wage is currently $7.25.

In an interview with the Gazette, Branstad noted he signed a bill in 1989 that created the state’s minimum wage and said he is willing to consider a wage increase, though his support would depend on the amount of the increase. “I don’t want to do something that’s going to cost people jobs,” he said. “We’ve tried to focus on bringing more good paying jobs to the state of Iowa, focusing on attracting industry and business that will pay good higher wages and things like that, rather than focusing on what the floor should be.”

Fourteen states and several cities enacted minimum wage increases that kicked in on January 1, the article noted. The states are Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia.

New York: First Minimum Wage Hearing Held in Albany

On Thursday, January 7, the New York State Senate held what is expected to be the first of at least four hearings on the minimum wage issue. The hearings are expected to be held throughout the state. Thursday’s was held in Albany, the state capitol, as reported by the Albany Times Union blog, Capitol Confidential.

The hearings were led by Labor Committee Chair, Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola), and the blog noted that the hearing room was “packed” with advocates of a minimum wage increase, who had come from a nearby rally. Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not send a representative to the hearing, and a spokesperson for the governor’s office explained to the Times Union that, since the governor’s wage increase proposal had not yet been introduced, a representative would not have “been much use.”

Both sides of the wage increase issue were given a chance to testify at the hearing. Advocates argued that increasing the minimum wage would be an effective anti-poverty program and it would allow low-wage workers to “begin to climb up the labor ladder,” the article reported. Conversely, opponents of the wage increase, which included a representative from the National Federation of Independent Businesses and the Empire Center, said it would be a job killer that would harm the people it means to help.

Sen. Martins noted that he wanted to broaden the discussion beyond the phasing-in of a $15 per hour minimum wage, and stressed that the real issue in many regions of New York is a lack of opportunity for employment that provides a middle-class salary, according to North Country Public Radio (NCPR).

Martins wondered how a higher wage might affect small businesses. E.J. McMahon, president of the Empire Center, said a wage increase would lead to more closures of small stores, reported. Local businesses currently compete by providing a higher level of personalized service, he said, but if the price of employment goes up, small stores would lose that edge as chain stores are much better equipped to pay higher wages.

McMahon also made the point that a statewide minimum wage increase would be a burden to rural regions such as the Southern Tier, an area that has a large number of low-wage workers coupled with stagnant economic development, the Times Union reported.

Ted Potrikus, the executive director of the Retail Council of New York, testified in favor of a wage increase. He said that, while retailers would face added personnel cost, they were likely to reap the benefits from working men and women having more income to spend, the Times Union article noted. Potrikus was recently named vice chairman of the Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice, a new effort advocating for a minimum wage increase in the 2016 session.