For good of isles’ workers, $15 minimum wage is imperative
Originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, April 25, 2019
Chair, Democratic Party of Hawaiʻi
As you know, passage of living wage legislation is a top tier priority of the Democratic Party for the 2019 legislative session. As party chairwoman, I feel compelled to register my concern that the living wage bills appear to be in jeopardy. I cannot stress enough how much the community needs to see our Democratic lawmakers find common ground and move forward into law a strong measure that puts Hawaii workers on a path to a living wage sooner rather than later.
We are not alone in our concern. I am hearing from labor groups, the faith-based community, students, youth groups and nonprofits who serve vulnerable families and children. It’s important to recognize that more than half of the workers who would benefit from a living wage are women. They are voters, and potential voters, who are holding their breath; waiting for action from the state Capitol.
The two minimum-wage bills now in the conference committee process, House Bill 1191 and Senate Bill 789, both include a $15 floor. They represent a step in the right direction. Let’s take that step.
Early in the session, leadership in both the House and the Senate indicated they believed an increase in the minimum wage was both needed, and expected to occur. Gov. David Ige also publicly stated his support for a $15 minimum wage. During the many votes that have been held since, members in the Senate were nearly unanimous in their support with only one “no” vote recorded. In the House, of the 51 members, only nine were in opposition.
Based on the public record of votes already cast, there is overwhelming support for increasing Hawaii’s minimum wage to at least $15 per hour. The only remaining hurdle is for the two chambers to reach agreement in conference committee. It is imperative that lawmakers preserve a minimum of $15 per hour by 2023.
Even at $15 an hour, it is worth noting that the state’s own Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism has concluded that approximately $17 is needed just to “subsist.” Realizing that some may believe $17 an hour is too great a leap, $15 per hour, while short of a subsistence or living wage, is a meaningful step that will truly help working people — and rev up the economy.
To the 66 members of the House and Senate who have voted multiple times to raise the minimum wage to at least $15 during this legislative session, I say mahalo nui loa. To those in leadership and those on the conference committee, I respectfully request that you reach an agreement that represents a win for everyone, especially low-income workers. Please avoid the temptation to put this important work off to next year or beyond.
Seven states with a cost of living that is lower than ours have already passed laws to increase their minimum wage to $15 an hour.
What the Hawaii Legislature does to enact a living wage will reverberate throughout our community — and throughout the nation. We are counting on you to come through for the good of our wonderful community.