Minimum wage hikes win wide support at NH Senate hearing

Lone opponent calls for ‘slower growth,’ but still supports an increase

The only business owner who testified Tuesday against a New Hampshire Senate bill that would increase the state’s minimum wage, said he supports increasing it.

The main beef of Tom Boucher, owner of the Great NH Restaurants chain, was that the tipped wage would go up with it.

In fact, everyone else — aside from one lobbyist — told the Senate Commerce Committee that the primary problem with Senate Bill 10 is that it does not increase the wage even more.

And that lone lobbyist, Bruce Berke, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business New Hampshire chapter urged a “slower growth in the minimum wage.”

SB 10 is so named because it would increase the minimum to $10 at the beginning of next year, though it would go up to $12 by 2022. It would also allow an $11-an-hour minimum in 2022 for people who work in businesses that offer at least 10 sick days. Currently, New Hampshire is the only New England state that doesn’t have its own minimum wage, defaulting to the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour, which hasn’t gone up in a decade.

“New Hampshire is an island,” said Senate President Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, the bill’s prime sponsor. “We are at least $3 below our neighboring states.”

Noting that minimum-wage workers have to resort to public assistance to live, she added, “Businesses that pay that low are asking the state to subsidize their businesses.”

‘It’s antiquated’

Dozens testified for the bill, from a former near-minimum-wage worker at a Boys and Girls Club who didn’t make enough money to keep his old Saab working, to church leaders and other advocates.

Most said they supported a $15-an-hour target with a cost-of-living escalator, as contained in one of the bills being considered Wednesday by the full House of Representatives.

“New Hampshire is not known as a good place to work,” said Glenn Brackett, president of the New Hampshire AFL-CIO. “You can’t work anywhere else in the United States and get paid less. Our young people vote with their feet. Our workers are going to Massachusetts.”

Those who remain behind can’t afford to live, testified Arnie Alpert, co-director of the American Friends Service Committee.

Noting the $1,177-a-month median, he said it would take someone making at minimum wage three full-time jobs to afford the rent of a two bedroom-apartment. Even at $15 an hour, it would require a second part-time job, he said.

Boucher acknowledged that the minimum wage hasn’t kept up with inflation.

“It’s antiquated, and it should go up,” he said.

But the tipped wage, which is 45 percent of the minimum, has gone up, since tips are tied to the price of food, he emphasized. A person buying a hamburger in 1984 paid $4.95. A 15 percent tip would get a server 99 cents. Now it costs $13.49, resulting in a $2.70 tip. As a result, tipped worker’ wages have kept up with inflation, he said.

At T-Bones, Boucher’s most modestly priced restaurant, tipped workers average $21 an hour.

He said that if the tipped wage did go up, it would cost his restaurant $415,000. And if he paid that, he said, he wouldn’t be able to increase the pay next year of the kitchen help (who make above $12 an hour) “and they are the people who need it the most.”

Boucher suggested a compromise: Increase the tipped wage (currently at $3.37 an hour) to a set amount: $4 an hour, not tied the minimum wage. Under SB 10, it would go higher, especially in 2022.

Berke presented the usual arguments against the minimum wage: that it would mean that businesses would have to cut jobs in a tight retail environment, even for business that pay above the minimum

“The person making $10 an hour is now going to expect $13 an hour. The person who was making $13 will want $16. It will have s strong negative effect on businesses,” he said.

But, Berke added, “We are realistic.”

If the Legislature is going to increase the minimum wage, he said, he would urge slower growth of the wage and add a training wage like the one proposed in several of House bills, only not just for young workers but all new workers.

While not testifying, the New Hampshire Retail Association and the New Hampshire Grocers Association joined the NFIB in issuing statements after the hearing opposing the minimum wage, citing slim margins in the retail industry and job loss.

On Wednesday the House Labor Committee is expected to vote on three bills concerning the minimum wage, one setting it at $10, the other at $12 and the last at $15.

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