Community split on wage increase

PARKERSBURG – As the Legislature considers a raise in the minimum wage, groups in the community have differing opinions on what that can mean for the state.

There are bills in the Legislature calling for raising the minimum wage in West Virginia from $7.25 an hour to $8.25 or greater over the next year or so.

House Bills 2953, 3102 and 4283 as well as Senate Bill 411 are all calling for a minimum wage increase.

HB 2953 is calling for the minimum wage to be raised to $8.50 per hour after June 30.

HB 3102 is calling for the minimum wage to be raised to $9 per hour after June 30.

HB 4283 and SB 411 are calling for the minimum wage to be raised to $7.85 per hour after June 30 and then raised to $8.25 an hour after June 30, 2015.

Delegate Dan Poling, D-Wood, was a co-sponsor on HB 4283.

”There hasn’t been a raise in five or six years,” Poling said. ”We thought it was about time for one. It will help folks at the bottom of the wage scale to help them make ends meet.”

The bill passed out of the House Industry and Labor Committee and is being sent to the House Finance Committee.

The purpose of the bill is to phase it in slowly over two years to allow businesses to adapt to it, Poling said.

”It is the right thing to do,” Poling said.

A raise in the minimum wage could have an impact across the community.

Lew Newberry, the executive director and CEO at Community Resources in Parkersburg, said there are two sides to the proposal, especially to the people it serves. According to its mission statement, Community Resources Inc. empowers families and strengthens communities by providing leadership, education, resources and opportunities that improve quality of life.

For many of the people the organization serves who are employed but identified as being “underemployed,” the minimum wage of $7.25 is not a livable wage to meet the expenses people have and still be able to maintain a good quality of life, Newberry said. The wage is considered under the federal poverty guideline, Newberry said.

If people could find employment, some people still earn more under their benefits, Newberry said. Many would rather stay on their benefits rather than finding a job that pays minimum wage.

”They opt for a government subsidized lifestyle, which is a shame,” Newberry said.

Raising the minimum wage could create a burden on businesses where there could end up being fewer jobs available as companies adjust to the change in expenses.

”It could be beneficial for some people, but it could mean fewer jobs,” Newberry said.

Raising the wage to $8.25 would put many people closer to the guidelines set. That would give some workers an additional $2,100 a year, Newberry said.

There has been discussions about raising the federal minimum wage to $10, but Newberry said that would be hard on the private sector to create jobs and maintain existing jobs.

”The $8.25 level could be a nice balance,” Newberry said.

Jason Batten, director of operations at the Latrobe Street Mission, said anything the Legislature could do to increase the quality of life for people could be a good thing. However, that would have to weigh the benefits and the costs over the long term to determine if it will be effective, he added.

Sam Winans of Winans Services said the company pays its employees above the minimum wage.

”We don’t have the minimum wage,” he said. ”We pay people $9-$12 an hour.”

Jim Winans, president of Winans Services, said he would support whatever helps working people.

”People cannot live on $7.25 an hour,” he said.

For some companies an increase in the minimum wage, on top of other expenses like costs associated with the Affordable Care Act, can significantly affect how they can operate.

”It changes the way people do business,” Sam Winans said.

Payroll is the largest expense, or cost, of being in business for most employers, said Jill Parsons, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of the Mid-Ohio Valley.

”Because some businesses are barely making ends meet now, some may be challenged by an increase in payroll costs that can’t be offset by increasing revenues or reducing other expenses,” she said. ”For our local chamber, businesses in retail, fast food and tourism would be most impacted by an increase in payroll costs.”

Parsons said House Bill 4283 would break up the proposed $1 increase to West Virginia’s minimum wage over 18 months, which would allow businesses to adapt to the increase incrementally.

”We certainly hope the incremental increases would help to slowly boost the economy by putting a little more in the paychecks of those that hold minimum wage jobs,” she said. ”What I hear from several of our chamber members is that many of our local employers currently pay their entry level employees at rates above minimum wage.

”This allows them to attract and retain employees with a certain skill set. Increasing the minimum wage could tighten the wage gap and create upward pressure on the entry level wages some employers currently pay,” she said.