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HOOSER: Raise the rage; time to take action on minimum wage

Top executives of Hawai‘i’s largest publicly traded companies received an average pay increase of more than $750,000 in 2021. Their average take-home pay: $4.5 million (Hawai‘i News Now).

Hawai‘i legislators themselves will receive a 10% pay raise this coming year, and most if not all public workers have also had their pay increases approved.

Yet Hawai‘i’s minimum wage of $10.10 has not increased since 2014. Since then, top legislative leaders have talked about an increase, said that they supported an increase, and promised an increase — and broken those promises every year.

Economic studies produced by the state Department of Business, Economic Development &Tourism state that while each county is slightly different, “In 2020, a single adult on Kaua‘i with no children needed to earn an hourly wage of $19.33 to be economically self-sufficient. That was 94.4% above the state minimum wage level and 178.1% above the federal poverty threshold for Hawai‘i.”

On Jan. 28 the Senate passed SB2018, proposing a phased-in, minimum-wage increase, reaching $18 per hour by 2026. Governor Ige offered written testimony in support and the Senate vote was only one short of being unanimous.

The House refused to even grant SB2018 a hearing.

Instead, they preferred to hear only “their bill,” HB2510, which was inferior in many ways, contained too many moving parts and did not reach the $18 mark until 2030.

The Senate, as the only adult in the room, dutifully scheduled, amended and passed HB2510 SD1. The measure now contains the $18 by 2026 provision and removes entirely the “tip penalty” that allows restaurants to pay a sub-minimum wage to their workers.

The House then rejected the amendments presented by the Senate.

Both of these bills are “ready to go and clean,” both achieve the $18 threshold in 2026, and both have been rejected by the House.

To be clear, Speaker of the House Scott Saiki is calling the shots on this, and so far has refused to allow a vote on either measure by the entire House of Representatives.

The Senate has already passed $18 by 2026 almost unanimously. It stands to reason that the House would do similarly IF Speaker Saiki would allow them to vote on it.

But no, the speaker is not allowing a vote, and instead is forcing the issue into the conference committee process, where it will be negotiated (weakened or killed) behind closed doors.

During the conference committee process the House and Senate conferees will meet in public at a scheduled time where they announce and formally convene. They will then recess and meet in private behind closed doors.

Behind closed doors the two sides will attempt to “leverage” the other side, using the political volatility of the minimum-wage bill as a wedge to force action on other bills. They will essentially say, “I will not pass this minimum-wage bill unless you pass (or don’t pass, or weaken, or amend in some specific way) some other bill that may or may not be related to the minimum-wage issue.”

It’s a game legislators play. Too often, it’s a game driven by ego and personal grudges.

It’s pathetic, really. Grown men responsible for looking out for us preferring instead to play their macho games of oneupmanship.

Please call and email today Speaker of the House Scott Saiki (McCully, Kaheka, Kaka‘ako, downtown Honolulu) at 808-586-6100 and repsaiki@Capitol.hawaii.gov.

Please also call and email today Senate President Ron Kouchi (Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau) at 808-586-6030 and senkouchi@capitol.hawaii.gov.

Tell them both to end the games, strike a deal that workers can celebrate, and take the vote.

Please copy your district senator and representative also.

If Saiki and Kouchi cannot bring their respective teams to an agreement, working people will end up with nothing. Nothing, that is, except more broken promises from more broken politicians.

•••

Gary Hooser is the former vice-chair of the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i, and served eight years in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Council, and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawai‘i Alliance for Progressive Action and is executive director of the Pono Hawai‘i Initiative.
Source: The Garden Island

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