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January 07. 2014 7:31PM

State's labor leaders urge $9 hourly wage in NH

CONCORD — New Hampshire labor leaders urged lawmakers to reestablish a minimum wage requirement and to raise it as they unveiled priorities for the coming year.

Increasing the minimum wage is one of a number of bills labor groups said they will support to improve the lives of workers and their families.

“This year we are calling on our Legislature to lift up working families and lift up New Hampshire,” said Mark MacKenzie, state AFL-CIO president.

He said increasing the minimum wage is the most important item as it sends a “strong message we are not going to allow people to live below the poverty level in this state.”

He said increasing the minimum wage is money that will go right back into the economy through rent, utilities, food and other essentials.

But opponents of the increase say it might be a short-term boost in the economy, but in the long-term will cost jobs and drive up inflation.

The bill backed by the labor groups would increase the minimum raise from $7.25 to $9 an hour.

Bruce Berke, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said raising the wage to $9 an hour is a 24 percent increase.

“Who is getting a 24 percent increase this year?” Berke asked. “Is a business going to charge 24 percent more for its widgets or for a meal?”

The longer term impacts have negative repercussions on the economic climate, he said.

“Let the market decide. There are so many other pressures on businesses that are mandated,” Berke said. “If it’s this today, what will be tomorrow, longer family leave or larger sick leave policies? It just never ends.”

But national AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, said the plight of low-wage workers is in the spotlight like never before with walkouts at Wal-Mart and strikes by fast-food workers.

“Work in this country should be valued, rewarded and respected,” Shuler said. “It is not a question of whether we can afford to reward hard work — we can’t afford not to. Income inequality is greater today than it’s been since the Great Depression.”

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.

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

The veto was overridden by the House and Senate, making New Hampshire one of 19 states where the “minimum wage” is the same as the federal rate.

MacKenzie said labor groups would also support a bill promoting equal pay and removing provisions forbidding employees from disclosing their wages, and another that better defines working conditions for temporary employees.

The groups will also back bills forbidding employers from basing hiring decisions on a person’s credit history or requiring employees to turn over passwords to their private social media sites.

Also on labor’s agenda are bills to limit fees charged to worker paid with payroll cards, to establish a state prevailing wage law for state-funded capital projects, and a bill requiring contractors on state projects to file certified payroll reports to include workers classifications and rates of pay.

grayno@unionleader.com


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