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January 05. 2014 8:03PM

NH labor leaders to take up minimum wage hike fight

CONCORD — New Hampshire labor leaders will unveil their 2014 legislative priorities, such as increasing the minimum wage, during a news conference Tuesday in Concord.

Lawmakers abolished the state’s minimum wage law in 2011, but state law holds that no employee shall be paid at an hourly rate lower than the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25 an hour.

Last year, lawmakers attempted to reestablish the state minimum wage and to increase it, but those bills were either killed or sent back to committees. However, several similar bills will be introduced this session.

Nationally there has been a push to increase the federal minimum wage — including walkouts at retailers and strikes by fast-food workers. Thirteen states increased their minimum wage Jan. 1.

In 2014, 21 states and the District of Columbia will have minimum wages above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

New Hampshire established a state minimum wage in 1949. In 2011 when the Republican-controlled Legislature removed the state minimum wage from the books, then-Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, vetoed it. He said a repeal would “undermine our state’s economic strategy.”

The veto was overridden by the House and Senate. State Rep. Jeff Goley, D-Manchester, had argued that the state should not give up its ability to set a minimum wage above the federal threshold.

New Hampshire is one of 19 states where the “minimum wage” is the same as the federal rate.

New Hampshire AFL-CIO President Mark MacKenzie and national AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler will join state lawmakers to talk about legislative efforts Tuesday at 2 p.m.

State Rep. Carol McGuire, R-Epsom, sponsored the 2011 bill removing a state minimum wage from the books. She said that she is not surprised that organized labor is trying again to shepherd a minimum wage bill through legislative channels.

From an economic point of view, she calls it a bad idea.

“I do believe it’s a job killer,” McGuire said.

Lawmakers three years ago heard testimony that many employers in New Hampshire pay hourly wages higher than the federal minimum.

The hourly minimum wage rates for other New England states are: Massachusetts, $8; Maine, $7.50; Vermont, $8.73; Connecticut, $8.70; and Rhode Island, $8, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The state of Washington has the highest minimum wage in the country, at $9.32 an hour. In March 2013, a national Gallup poll found 71 percent support for increasing the federal rate to $9 an hour; Republicans surveyed in that poll were split.


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