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Wage legislation — radical leftist or essential centrist?

In response to my previous column “Hawaii’s minimum wage needs to start at $17 and strive to be a living wage”, a woman wrote to me saying “I have voted for you in the past but it seems you have moved too far to the left …” She then wrote about how she opposed “too much government” and about how increasing the minimum wage would cause “the price of everything to go up.”

I suspect this woman is strong on environmental issues and has supported me over the years because of my likewise strong positions on environmental protection and land use. I appreciate that support enormously. But let me ask that she — and others of a similar mindset — be open to thinking about the importance of economic justice as well.

It is interesting that some believe that requiring business to pay a living wage is a radical, left-wing concept. Remember, government has been requiring businesses to pay overtime wages, to provide workers compensation insurance and to provide a safe working environment for their employees for decades now. Most of us, I believe, consider these government mandates as part of our modern civil society and not radical concepts at all.

There are many places where the minimum wage is close to that of a living wage, and the sky has not yet fallen on those communities. In Australia, their fast food workers get paid $20 per hour. Yes, their burgers are probably considered expensive by some, but this has not put the fast food industry out of business.

Here today, according to the state’s own data, “40 percent of jobs in Hawaii pay below a living wage, and nearly half of all families do not earn enough to pay for their basic needs.” Star-Advertiser, Dec. 26, 2018.

How do we stand by and do nothing while our neighbors struggle in this way?

Yes, if the minimum wage is increased we may have to pay 25 cents more for a burger (which we don’t really need and is bad for our health anyway) and another dollar for the cheap big box clothing (which was probably made in China and which we probably don’t really need either).

But the flip side is that those employees cooking those burgers and selling us those cheap clothes, will now be able to participate in their children’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA), instead of rushing off to their second or third job.

Or maybe they will just go home and read a good book, or throw a ball around with the kids in the yard. These same employees will now perhaps even be able to go to dinner themselves, or buy their young son or daughter those running shoes they have been asking for.

For the record, I understand also that increasing the minimum wage is only one part of the formula necessary to support working people rising up out of poverty.

The Anne E. Casey Foundation describes what I believe is an all encompassing 3 part solution, they call Earn It, Keep It and Grow It. Increasing the minimum wage addresses only the “Earn It” component.

The other components involved increased asset building via affordable home ownership, and the strict regulation of “predatory lending” practices such as are now utilized by Pay Day Lenders, Credit Cards and private Student Loan Providers.

I, for one, don’t think it is a radical idea for those who have more, to be willing to pay more, so that those who have less will at least enjoy the fundamental basics all of us deserve. I don’t think it is “leftist” to believe that every person who works 40 hours per week should be paid a wage that is sufficient to provide basic shelter, food and health care.

To me, if anything this concept should be central to all of our values and thinking.

After all, we are all in this together. I am not a pious church-goer, but those who are will recall the Gospel message to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and yes, to give one of our coats to the man who has none.

So, believers and nonbelievers, environmental justice warriors and social justice champions should be able to find common ground in this effort to ensure a means of survival — just survival — for all working families in Hawaii. Don’t we call ourselves the aloha state?

Please visit Raise Up Hawaii to read the facts that hopefully will counter the fear and misinformation perpetuated by the big box, fast food and big business interests that seek to keep wages and worker benefits as low as possible.

Happy New Year, one and all — and let’s work to make it so for ALL.


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.
Source: The Garden Island

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