A bill to raise the minimum wage in Hawaii to $ 12 in July 2022 was passed unanimously by its first committee on Monday. More than 180 individuals and groups spoke out in favor of it. Most said it should be much higher.
Hawaii’s minimum wage is $ 10.10 an hour, a rate that went into effect January 2018. President Joe Biden has accepted the national campaign “Fight for US $ 15” and urges it to be made the federal minimum wage.
“Twelve dollars an hour is a start, but not even close to a living wage,” said Patrick Switzer to the Senate Committee on Labor, Culture and the Arts. “As a registered nurse working in Honolulu, I can tell you that this increase would be a lifeline for the working poor who face impossible choices every day, such as between buying food for their children and paying electricity bills.”
The Senate Committee on Labor, Culture and the Arts voted 5-0 for the advancement of Senate Law 676, introduced by Chairman Brian Taniguchi. Republican Kurt Fevella tentatively voted yes.
The bill is one of several introduced this year to raise the minimum wage. Some are slated to be $ 17 an hour by 2026. She is the first to be scheduled for a hearing.
Local business interest groups and various individual employers opposed the move, saying it was the wrong time to force them to pay their workers more when most companies are struggling to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Our membership is really in dire straits,” said Victor Lim, representative for the Hawaii Restaurant Association. “We need time to recover from the pandemic. We really cannot bear any additional costs. “
Opponents include the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce and its subsidiaries, Hawaii retailers, the Hawaii Restaurant Association, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the Hawaii Transportation Association, and companies like 7-Eleven Hawaii, Gyotaku Japanese Restaurants, and Highway Inn.
“The fact is, the increase in the minimum wage will force more companies in Hawaii to downsize and shut down,” said Lauren Zirbel, executive director of the Hawaii Food Industry Association. “Our state was hardest hit by the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. … This calculation is currently not the right choice. “
Proponents of the bill argued that given Hawaii’s high cost of living, raising the minimum wage was critical for workers on the lower end of the scale. Many are seen as essential and have been on the front lines during the pandemic and need the help, they testified. The $ 12 minimum wouldn’t go into effect until July 1, 2022.
“Currently, 10 states and the District of Columbia have higher minimum wages than Hawaii,” said Gary Hooser, executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative. “Pandemic or no pandemic, 27 other states are raising their minimum wages this year. Hawaii has to be # 28. “
Other groups in favor of the measure were Living Wage Hawaii, the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice, Common Cause Hawaii, the League of Hawaii Women Voters, Americans for Democratic Action, and unions like the ILWU, the Hawaii Government Employees Association and Hawaii State Teachers Association.
They argued that raising the minimum wage would boost the economy as low-wage earners would immediately spend that money on the ground. Many pushed for it to be gradually increased to $ 17 by 2026.
“Research shows that increasing the minimum wage increases spending and returns money directly to local shops and restaurants,” the Appleseed Center said. “Raising the minimum wage helps keep the money in our state by targeting it to the wallets of local workers rather than corporate headquarters and shareholders outside the state.”
Taniguchi said the committee received 181 testimony in support, 22 in opposition and 15 with comments before the hearing began.
Most of the statements came in written form from individuals with short and factual messages.
“This is the least we can do to support our fellow citizens who are struggling for a dignified life,” wrote James Tolley.
The minimum wage in Hawaii stagnated at $ 7.25 an hour from 2007 to 2014. Proponents point out that despite an annual increase to $ 10.10 between 2015 and 2018, the state’s unemployment rate fell to an all-time low of 2% in 2018.
Businesses fear, however, that an increase in wages will drive up prices for consumers, overwhelm businesses and lead to more layoffs.
“Local businesses barely survive, many have already closed for good,” said Gary Yoshioka on behalf of Diamond Bakery Co. We can look at wages once we get into economic momentum. “
SB 676 next heads the Ways and Means and Justice Committees. Other bills that would increase Hawaii’s minimum wage include HB 4, HB 600, SB 285, SB 294, and HB 1201, but none are scheduled for a hearing just yet.