Photo: Emily Metcalf
Photo: Emily Metcalf

BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – HONOLULU — Several of Hawaii’s religious leaders are supporting the effort by Democratic legislative leaders to increase the state’s minimum wage.

Faith Action for Community Equity, a faith-based grassroots organization that includes 38 churches, a Buddhist temple, two Jewish congregations, 10 community groups and nonprofit organizations and a labor union, launched an automated telephone advertisement campaign to homes and businesses across the state asking the public to sign a petition on its website to increase Hawaii’s minimum wage.

The House and Senate Democratic leaders, which holds all but one seat in the 25-member Senate and seven in the 51-member House, have agreed to increase the minimum wage to at least $10 per hour from $7.25 per hour, according to Senate President Donna Mercado Kim. The final number, however, still is being negotiated.

FACE, headed by former Hawaii State Teacher Association labor union president Karen Ginoza, said the increase is needed because Hawaii’s utilities are 110 percent higher than the national average, housing is 104 percent higher and groceries are 57 percent higher than other states, yet Hawaii’s minimum wage is lower than 21 other states.

However, not everyone supports the wage hike.

State Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom, R-Hawaii Kai-Diamond Head, pointed out that only a small fraction of Hawaii workers earn minimum wage at any one time.

Many small business owners are opposed to increase because the cost of doing business in Hawaii already is the highest in the nation, said Slom, who also is the president of  Smart Business Hawaii, a small business advocacy group.

“Minimum wage is just that, a minimum, and an entry or training wage, not a ‘living’ wage,” Slom said. “Government should not dictate a wage without guaranteeing productivity and profit too. Jobs are lost, not created, or full-time employees are changed to part time when the wage is forced up.”

Any pay increases would boost the cost of workers compensation insurance, unemployment insurance, temporary disability insurance and other mandates, Slom said, as well as force up other wages within the company.

Hawaii already is ranked among the worst places in the country to do business, Slom said, because of state mandates on businesses, high taxes and regulations. Hawaii is the only state that forces employers to offer health care to employees working 20 hours or more a week.

“We need jobs, employment incentives and a better Hawaii business climate instead of more government mandates,” Slom said.

Win Schoneman, who has owed popular ice cream store in Hawaii Kai for 16 years, hired nine high school and college students at 50-cents above the $7.25 per hour minimum wage, increasing their pay as their responsibilities and skill levels improved.

“Statistically, nationwide and in our state, relatively few people are dependent on minimum wage … however, the minimum wage has raised our cost of doing business and living here significantly,” Schoneman said.

While proponents of an increase maintain Hawaii needs a “living wage,” Schoneman said the minimum wage is not a way out of poverty.

“Better education, skills and trades lift people out of poverty, not transferring wealth to another person,” Schoneman said.

If the minimum wage increases, Schoneman said small businesses like his will have to choose between raising prices, cutting employee hours, laying off employees or shuttering the business.

The House and Senate have a scheduled crossover, where bills are exchanged from one chamber to the other, next Tuesday. Legislators say it is likely the minimum wage bill will pass the Senate next week and cross over to the House for its consideration.

House proposals to raise the minimum wage in incremental amounts over the next four years until it reaches $10 an hour and then tie the increase to the Consumer Price Index, automatically increasing the wage each year, are also moving forward.

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