Hawaii’s workers need living wages
Originally published in The Garden Island, March 26, 2019
The Hawaii Legislature will soon decide on two minimum wage bills, SB789 SD2 and HB1191 HD1. These bills will gradually increase Hawaii’s minimum wage from the present $10.10 an hour to a more livable one of $15 an hour by 2023 for SB789 and 2024 for HB1191.
SB789 proposes giving tax breaks to small business (25 employees or less) to offset wage increases, while HB1191 has a two tier wage system of paying $12.50 an hour for workers with employee sponsored medical insurance and $15 an hour if medical insurance is not provided.
The House Labor Committee for SB789 has inserted language to eliminate paying a sub-minimum wage to disabled workers.
Presently in Hawaii, employees who work at least 20 hours a week are offered medical. These bills have been supported by many younger and lower paid workers with emotional testimonies.
Organizations like “Raise Up Hawaii” and “Living Wage Hawaii,” Women’s groups, unions and social service organizations like Catholic Charities have shown solid support. Both the Democratic Party of Hawaii Platform and the National Democratic Party call for a minimum of $15 an hour.
These bills should be supported but with amendments that reflect Hawaii’s high cost of living. Both should have a $17 minimum wage, but for HB1191, firms that offer insurance should pay their employees at least $14 an hour. This was in the original language in HB1191.
And why $17 an hour?
The State of Hawaii’s Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism in its 2016 study, says that a single Hawaii worker needs at least $17 an hour to survive.
For a Kauai family of four with two full-time working adults, having a child in preschool and one of regular school age, both parents need to make at least $18.40 an hour each to support their family.
But even with these facts, it has been a struggle to get our legislators on board for $15 an hour. Even if most are Democrats. On the other hand, President Trump and the Republican Party want to keep the national minimum wage at the present $7.25 an hour.
In the state of Hawaii, more than 88,000 workers, work for the minimum $10.10 an hour. Workers in Washington, D.C., Illinois, New York City, Seattle, parts of Oregon, Massachusetts and Los Angeles have fought and won $15 an hour.
Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has helped the workers at Amazon and Disney win $15 an hour. For Hawaii’s wage earners this is not a radical idea. Please call Kauai legislators to support these bills. Call Senate President Ron Kouchi at 586-6063 and our House Reps Dee Morikawa at 586-6281, Nadine Nakamura 586-8435 and Jimmy Tokioka at 586-6227.