Nevada's Minimum Wage Could Increase to $13 Per Hour
An initiative to raise Nevada's minimum wage could be on the ballot, come November. This comes after a district judge rejected a legal challenge to the ballot measure.
As Nevada's economy continues to rebound, so does the question of Nevada's minimum wage. Carson City District Judge James E. Wilson rejected a legal challenge, Wednesday, that would have blocked a question from making it onto the 2016 ballot. If approved in two elections, the minimum wage would increase to $9.25 per hour, gradually increasing to $13 by 2024.
"This is a big win for working families of Nevada," said Pat Fling, Executive Director of Acting in Community Together in Organizing Northern Nevada, or ACTIONN.
The minimum wage in the Silver State is currently $8.25 per hour. If the employer provides health benefits, the rate is $7.25. Those benefits would be removed from minimum wage if the ballot question passes. Fling says those wages are not enough, with or without health benefits.
"In our region, a living wage is more like $24 an hour," Fling said. "So, we're not talking about what a family needs to sustain themselves. We're talking about just the minimum wage."
The Reno-Sparks-Northern Nevada Chamber supported a lawsuit by the Committee to Preserve Nevada Jobs, that was struck down. One of their biggest problems with the question is that it combines more than just minimum wage. It also means that penalties are too severe for employers who do not comply with the new minimum wage rate, even if it is an accident. Tray Abney, the Chamber's Director of Government Relations, says those small business owners would be forced to pay unnecessary litigation fees, along with triple damage.
"An employer would be required to pay, not only back-pay, but three-times that amount, even if they made an honest mistake," Abney said.
Abney says the wage hike, along with the penalties amounts to a transfer of money from small business owners to attorneys.
Colin Richards is the owner of Scooper's, on Kietzke Lane. The 35-year-old family-owned restaurant starts its employees at $8.75 per hour. Richard says he supports higher minimum wages, but is concerned that the increase would put people out of business.
"Personally, I back it," Richards said. "But it's tough. It's not that I don't think people, especially my staff, they're definitely worth it but I just don't see how it's possible to do it."
Richards says he would have to increase his food prices to pay for the labor costs, perhaps doubling with a $13 minimum wage. His concern is if he can keep his customers at that cost.
"If it works, it works. Fantastic," Richards said. "I would love to be able to pay my staff that $13 an hour and be able to keep our doors open."
Abney says minimum wage earners make up such a small number of the population that it only increases costs for everyone else.
"I understand the principle of it," Abney said. "The problem is, in reality, if you get a raise and all the prices go up for the stuff you're buying, did you get a raise?"
Fling says the rate hike would have a positive outcome for Nevada's economy. She says the added money is important to them because many minimum wage earners rely on government subsidies like food stamps.
"This would actually reduce the dependency on public benefits if people are earning higher wages," Fling said.
While some argue that the rate increase would hurt small businesses, Fling says it would have very small impacts.
"100,000 people are affected by the minimum wage in our state," Fling said. "So, if you look at who those people are, it's not the majority of businesses that are paying the minimum wage."
"The 98% of us that don't make minimum wage, now our prices go up. Now we have less money to bring home to our families," Abney said.
The last time, a minimum wage increase was on the ballot, it easily passed. Both sides agree that it will likely pass, this time, too. Abney says in order to get the question changed, to remove some of the provisions, they will have to take it to the Nevada Supreme Court.