‘Republicrats’ failed workers by not raising minimum wage
Originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, May 20, 2019
The speaker of the state House, the Senate president, the governor, and even the minority leader all promised an increase to Hawaii’s minimum wage law at the beginning of the recent legislative session. The Legislature didn’t live up to that commitment. For the next 19 months, our state’s minimum wage will remain at a disgraceful $10.10 per hour.
On Jan. 24, at the beginning of this year’s legislative session, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser published my commentary in which I indicated that by the end of the session, we would be able to distinguish the Republicratic legislators from the Democratic legislators (“Hawaii Democrats should raise minimum wage significantly,” Island Voices). A Republicrat is a Republican who gets elected to the Legislature as a Democrat.
Before I name the Republicrats, however, let’s examine what happened during the recently concluded legislative session. Hawaii has had a law for several decades that employers must provide health care for all their employees who work at least 20 hours per week. This law affects all employees, legislators, public and private sector workers.
The House of Representatives decided this year to create exceptions to a proposed new higher minimum wage law for the employers of minimum wage workers. The result, if approved, would have required employers to continue to pay the health care of higher wage workers and salaried workers, but reduce the new proposed increased hourly wage of minimum wage workers if the employer continued to pay for their employees health care. Thus, over the next four years, instead of their hourly wage increasing to $15 per hour, Hawaii’s minimum wage for these workers would only rise to $12.50 per hour. As has been well recognized, a full-time worker in Hawaii needs at least $17 per hour to provide themselves with food and rent, sometimes referred to as a living wage.
Why did this happen ? Most current businesses already pay $11.25 to $15 as starting wages for their employees. However, employers are concerned that with the current tight labor market in Hawaii, those businesses paying employees at the lower end of that scale will be forced to begin to pay wages closer to a living wage.
Legislators receive significant contributions from business leaders toward their reelections, but minimum wage and low-income workers cannot afford to contribute to legislators’ campaigns. Hawaii’s low-income workers depend on those who have written and been published by the Star-Advertiser in recent months to speak up for them.
It should be mentioned that what the state House was proposing to pass into law may not even been legal since Hawaii was given certain exemptions to the Affodable Care Act (“Obamacare”).
Apparently the Legislature hadn’t even looked into this potentially embarrassing problem.
It should also be mentioned that the Legislature could have approved a one-year clean bill with a smaller minimum wage increase, to give hope to low-income workers that the legislators understands the problem these workers are facing.
The leadership of the House of Representatives let our workers down: they include Scott Saiki, Mark Nakashima, Della Au Belatti, Dee Morikawa, Tom Brower, Aaron Johanson and Sylvia Luke.
I take no pleasure in calling them out for their failure in this important matter.