By Freddy Monares/UM Legislative News Service
HELENA – Lawmakers in Helena are trying to figure out how much the cost of a hamburger would go up if they raised the state’s minimum wage.
House Bill 169 would raise the minimum wage to a little more than $10 an hour, almost $2 dollars more than the current rate. That has some small business owners worried.
Bennington Ward owns the Golden Harvest Café in Dutton. He says any increase in wages would also increase overhead costs for business owners.
“There’s just a lot more than $2 an hour I’m going to be shelling out if the wage increases to this amount,” Ward said.
Ward says some of his staff have turned down higher-paying job offers — mainly because they were making more with tips at the restaurant. Montana does not collect data on the amount an employee earns in tips.
Jules Shindel, organizing director for the Montana Human Rights Network and Montana Women Vote, calls the current minimum wage unlivable.
“The idea that minimum wage workers are just teenagers with working jobs, or college students working over the summer, is an enormous myth,” Shindel said Monday.
The organizations she represents focus on promoting human rights and the needs of low-income women and families.
“These hard-working Montanans — they serve our food, the keep the lines moving at the grocery store, they care for our children and for our elderly neighbors — they deserve our respect, and that starts with the right to take care of themselves,” Shindel said.
While most supporters of the bill argued that these jobs were being increasingly held by adults, the opposition thought otherwise. Helena Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Ronda Wiggers argues these entry level positions are important for people just joining the workforce.
“Thanks to Sen. (Brian) Hoven’s patience, my son now knows how to run a push broom, but I would argue that he really wasn’t worth much more than minimum wage,” Wiggers said.
Democratic Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell of Helena is sponsoring the bill. She says the proposed wage increase is nowhere near a living wage in Montana, but it’s a start.
“This is not near that, but it’s something, and for 96,000 Montanans it will help — 20 percent of Montana’s workforce,” Dunwell said.
Freddy Monares is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.