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‘Fight for $15’ reaches Hawaii; Sen. Green to seek higher minimum wage

A $15 an hour minimum wage is getting the support of at least one Hawaii Island lawmaker.

Sen. Josh Green, D-Kona, Ka‘u, said he will introduce a bill in the upcoming session to boost the wage — which increased Jan. 1 from $8.50 to $9.25 — incrementally to $15 by 2023.

He said the increase is needed because of Hawaii’s high cost of living and that the previous minimum wage bill passed in 2014 didn’t go far enough. The last scheduled increase will be to $10.10 next year.

“The recent increases were very long overdue and still inadequate,” Green said.

His goal is to reach a “living wage” that he said would reduce homelessness and demand for public assistance programs or other benefits.

“We’re paying for a lot of benefits that people end up needing,” Green said.

Mike Kaleikini, president of the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce, said the business organization would be concerned about increasing costs to small businesses.

He said the chamber’s focus is on creating a “robust economy” to address issues such as housing.

“In general, I can tell you that the chamber has not supported the increases in the minimum wage to a great extent because it would affect small businesses we represent,” Kaleikini said.

Green said a higher minimum wage would give workers more money to spend at local shops, though he said he is open to reducing the impact on small businesses. He said that could come in the form of a tax break or exemption for those who employ less than 20 people.

A bill proposed by Rep. Kaniela Ing, D-South Maui, would go further.

In a press release, Ing said Tuesday he will introduce a bill to increase the wage to $15 by 2019 and $22 by 2022, and tie it to the consumer price index. The legislative session starts Jan. 18.

“Working families are struggling, so we as legislators have a moral obligation to act,” he said.

According to Hawaii News Now, Green initially was considering a bill to top out the minimum wage at $22 an hour in 2022. His latest proposal appears to back away from that.

“I’m realistic that this does create pressures on businesses,” Green said. “What I’ve said is we should definitely move to $15 an hour, which would be the bare living wage, and we would get input from experts about where to go from there.”

The $15 minimum wage is part of a push nationwide, known as the “Fight for $15,” led by labor and other groups that started with organizing fast-food workers.

A $15 minimum wage will be introduced statewide in California for businesses with at least 26 employees in 2022. A few major cities, such as San Francisco, New York City and Seattle, adopted their own $15 minimum wage laws.

Green’s bill would increase Hawaii’s minimum wage by a dollar a year starting in 2019 until it reaches $15.

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