If you are earning less than $17 per hour at your job, a hearing being held at the State Capitol on Thursday could change that.
There have been numerous bills proposed to increase Hawaii’s minimum wage and Thursday the political will of legislators will be put to the test. Do they support the interests of low income working people, or not?
On one side you have the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce, beating the drum and claiming if the minimum wage is increased, the sky will surely fall.
They are at this very moment going door to door, lobbying legislators against increasing the Hawaii minimum wage. The Chamber mantra is that raising the minimum wage will put them out of business, will cause layoffs, and will make prices rise through the roof.
All of this is simply not true.
When Hawaii last raised the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour, nothing bad happened at all. There were no increases in bankruptcies, no increase in unemployment and no exceptional increases in inflation. The truth is that so long as future increases are phased in over time, nothing but good things will happen. People will earn more money, and they will spend more money. Consequently, the economy actually benefits when working people get paid a decent wage.
On one side of the issue there is the Chamber of Commerce and related interests, and on the other side we have the Democratic Party of Hawaii, who has declared that making Hawaii’s minimum wage a living wage is their number one priority.
In addition, labor groups on every island have indicated their support, as well as many in the faith based community. Organizations representing families, the working poor and other economic justice groups are aligned in solidarity on this issue.
The cynics, the jaded and some would say the pragmatist — are of course predicting that at the end of the day, the golden rule will prevail, “he who has the gold, rules.” And that legislators will cave in to the fear based pressure put upon them by the top 10 percent of income earners in our community.
It seems that the way of the world is that the people who have, will always push back against the people who have not. And the politics and tactics of fear dominate the politics and tactics of hope and justice.
I actually am more hopeful and believe at the end of the day, our legislators will take a deep breathe and do the right thing. But, as a self described pragmatic idealist, I know this will only happen if the community shows up and demands that it be so. Regular people without the money to travel to the capitol, and lobby the legislators have to be engaged in larger numbers to have the same impact as those who have the gold.
Emailing your own district senator and representative is the place to start. Submitting testimony is the next all important step. All of the information to do this can be found on the Hawaii State Legislatures website, www.capitol.hawaii.gov.
Please get involved. The voice of regular working people is needed now. Take a moment, engage the system. Your voice, combined with that of your neighbors and friends, can and will make a difference.
There have been numerous bills proposed and several are scheduled for a hearing this coming Thursday in both the House and the Senate labor committees. Please visit capitol.hawaii.gov and review SB1248, SB789 and HB1191, and then offer testimony via email.
These measures, while welcome, in my opinion fall far short of what is needed. Hawaii workers deserve a minimum wage of at least $17 per hour. The Hawaii Department of Business and Economic Development has determined that this is the approximate amount that workers in Hawaii need, simply to survive. Is that asking too much? Shouldn’t every person that works a 40-hour week be entitled to earn enough so that they have a dry place to sleep, enough food to eat, and basic medical care?
History and research clearly shows that increasing the minimum wage incrementally over time, will not cause the sky to fall. Hawaii workers deserve a minimum wage that is sufficient to feed, clothe and house them. I encourage all to think hard about the basic humanity that is the foundation of this request.
Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.