Wage Increase Advocates Rally for Support at Legislature
Originally published in the Hawaii Filipino Chronicle, March 16, 2019
Organizers and members of RaiseUpHawaii, a coalition of groups in favor of raising the state’s minimum wage, made rounds at the legislature on March 12 to talk to lawmakers before the Senate Labor Committee will hear HB1191 HD1, a bill that proposes to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024, but it allows employers to pay a lower wage only if they provide health insurance to those workers.
Advocates are asking legislators to enact a living wage that keeps up with the high cost of living in what is effectively the most expensive state in the nation.
Current legislative proposals to raise the wage over the course of four to five years are stuck at between $12.50 to $15 an hour. This flies in the face of research from the state’s own Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT) which has determined that $17 an hour is what a single person with no children needs right now just to survive.
Two women from Maui spoke of the struggle of raising a family as single working mothers. Evelyn Goo, whose adult children, age 26 and 22 years, still live with her said she could not support more than one household on her limited income. Another spoke of being grateful for a rat-infested former food packing shed that she rented for $1300 a month for herself and her child.
“I know family and friends who have college degrees and are making a big contribution in many ways to the community who have been forced to move away because they just cannot survive in Hawaii on the kind of wages people are paid here. Hawaii is losing good people for lack of a living wage,” she said.
Jennifer Kagiwada and George Donev from Hawaii island highlighted the high cost of childcare and the poor pay for teachers that causes them to seek second and third jobs to make ends meet. “That means our children don’t get the kind of attention they need in the classroom,” she said.
Donev is a math and computer science undergrad at UH-Hilo.
“UH- Hilo is a commuter school. I see my fellow students struggling to keep up with school while taking on one or two minimum wage jobs to survive. It’s just not sustainable.” The drop-out rate at UH-Hilo is high and less than 40% graduate in six years He told legislators that raising the minimum wage to a survival level or living wage will yield real economic benefits.
“It will allow students to focus on their studies, graduate on time, and contribute to economic growth. Every extra semester they stay in school increases the cost of getting a degree. So, if they are already struggling with rent and food, it makes it difficult to stay enrolled. A living wage can reverse that trend,” he said.
Kaua?i residents, Patricia Wistinghausen and Marion McHenry flew to Honolulu to join other advocates on visits to legislators at the state Capitol to urge them to pass a true living wage for workers in Hawai?i.
Marion McHenry who is retired after three decades in the hospitality industry, says she remembers when people like her could live on minimum wage jobs. “Not any more,’ she says. “Wages have just not kept up with the cost of living. Even with the last increase to $10.10, I see more and more people becoming homeless because they cannot afford a place to stay. I came to speak on their behalf because they cannot leave their jobs to advocate for themselves,” she said. She feels for families she has witnessed preparing their children for school while living in a car. “These children have no place to return to that can be called a home,” she said.
McHenry points to Kaua?i Juice Company as the kind of business she makes it a point to support. “Their employees actually turn down tips because they say they are paid a living wage. I have a limited retirement income but I make sure I spend it with businesses that treat their employees right.”
Patricia Wistinghausen knows family and friends who have moved away because, even with college degrees, even though they were giving a lot to the community through their work, they simply could not make rent or buy a home or provide adequately for their families.
“My husband was able to make it through college with the help of the G.I. bill. And we used a V.A. loan to get a house. Without that we would not have been able to buy a house,“ she said.
“I am here to speak for those who could not take time off from work. Lawmakers need to hear their stories. I myself will have to work extra hours to make up for income lost spending this day taking those stories to legislators,” said Wistinghausen. “But it needed to be done.
Advocates expressed optimism that lawmakers will follow through on their expressed commitment to enact a living wage. If the community and its elected representatives truly share the conviction that workers deserve to be paid enough to live on, advocates believe a true living wage will be one of the real, lasting accomplishments of this legislative session.