State Democrats push $12 minimum wage by 2022

  • Ann Podlipny, right, a member of the Immigrant Solidarity Network, advocates for a state minimum wage ahead of Gov. Chris Sununu's inaugural address. New Hampshire's low wages affect the Nepalese community and others, Podlipny said. Ethan DeWitt

Monitor staff
Published: 4/24/2019 5:43:36 PM

Minata Toure didn’t come to New Hampshire to sit back. Practically from the moment she immigrated from Burkina Faso six years ago, she trained and jumped into the workforce. 

With a son in tow, Toure worked long hours as a home care provider, feeding, lifting and tending to her patients. But the pay never seemed to match the effort. Just to pay the bills, Toure needed to work 65 to 70 hours a week, she said. Taking care of her son often meant leaving him with friends for long stretches. At one point, Toure hurt her back, complicating everything.

Toure came to the U.S. to be independent. But she still found herself seeking government assistance.

“I was always ashamed to go to welfare and ask them for help,” she said at a committee hearing Wednesday. “I am working, I am doing all my best, but I still am not able to make it.”

Toure’s salary, at $10.75 an hour, is almost 50 percent above the minimum wage. But under a proposed minimum wage increase pushed by House and Senate Democrats this year, she’d see it rise to $12.

Eight years since New Hampshire last had a minimum wage law and 11 since the last increase, State House Democrats are pressing for its reinstatement. For entry-level workers, the bare minimum has been $7.25 since 2009. A bill by Senate President Donna Soucy would significantly adjust that.

Senate Bill 10 would raise New Hampshire’s minimum wage to $10 in 2020 and to $12 in 2022, with the option of an $11 minimum for those businesses that provide 10 days of paid sick leave to employees. It would raise minimums for tipped employees from $4 to $7.25, providing that the tips add up to at least $12.

Business groups and restaurant lobbyists warn the move could jolt the business climate and drive up closures and layoffs. Advocates, like Toure, argue it would bring New Hampshire up to the level of neighboring states and dramatically improve living conditions across the Granite State.

“The fact of the matter is in this state, people need to have more,” Soucy said at hearing before the House Labor committee. “People who are working full time deserve to be compensated more fairly.”

New Hampshire’s minimum wage has had a convoluted history. The wage was in effect as far back as 1987, when the state imposed a $3.45 an hour wage over the federal standard, according to the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute. But in the decades since it has fishtailed with the federal minimum –  some years, New Hampshire would be a few cents ahead, while other stretches it would default to the federal.

In 2011, in the shadow of a recession and massive spending reductions, the Legislature repealed the minimum wage law, tying the state to the federal minimum. Since then, the wage has stayed at $7.25 an hour.

Like efforts in past years, support for SB 10 has been starkly partisan so far; it left the Democratically-controlled Senate voted 14-10, along party lines.

On Wednesday, advocates argued that raising the state’s minimum wage would negate the need for multiple shifts, and jobs, and boost spending power. Some, like Toure, recalled long hours to make ends meet. Others said the lowered standards made it easier for employers to impose oppressive work environments.

But industry representatives have said hiking minimum wages could prove a tipping point for some businesses with low margins. And others argued that raising the minimum wage would mean that workers advancing up the ladder would need to be paid higher too, creating a dent in profits.

The bill’s political roadmap is murky at best. A spokesman for Gov. Chris Sununu said Wednesday that the governor continued to oppose minimum wage increases, though he did not explicitly vow a veto.

The House Labor committee will take the bill up for a vote next month.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, at (603) 369-3307, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)




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