The Nevada Legislature suddenly has two active minimum wage bills. One proposes an eventual raise to $12 an hour. Another aims for the magic $15 number that #FightFor15 activists have been agitating for. There’s likely more action to come.
What’s on the table? What’s at stake for Nevada workers? We explain below.
Nevada’s current minimum wage is $7.25 an hour for workers with qualifying health insurance, and $8.25 for those without. Voters passed a constitutional amendment to do so in 2004 and 2006 to set the minimum wage $1 above the federal level for those without qualifying health insurance.
The last time the minimum wage changed was when the federal minimum wage rose to $7.25 an hour in 2009.
Some legislators want to update Nevada’s minimum wage this year. State Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford (D-Spring Valley) introduced SB 106 to gradually phase in a $12 minimum wage (or $11 an hour for those with qualifying health insurance) over five years. Meanwhile, in the Assembly, William McCurdy (D-Las Vegas) introduced AB 175 to phase in a $15 minimum wage (or $14 an hour for those with qualifying health insurance) over five years.
With a more hostile White House and Congress in place, #FightFor15 activists look to state and local policymakers for solutions. And now that Nevada has more progressive-minded majorities in both houses of the Legislature, activists expect action here.
At an Assembly Commerce and Labor hearing yesterday, people explained why the minimum wage matters to them.
“Why should we raise the minimum wage? […] We can’t survive on what we’re making now.”
That was Lupe Guzman, the #FightFor15 activist and Carl’s Jr. worker who testified in Congress last month over now withdrawn Labor Secretary Nominee Andrew Puzder.
“There’s no reason someone like me must be struggling. We can do better.” Ordained minister and Five Guys worker Harold Washington Carnes described the struggles in caring for a spouse and a grandchild on $8.75 an hour.
They were just a couple of multiple heartbreaking stories of trying to make it while earning so little. Still, not everyone is on board with raising the minimum wage. Employers who take advantage of low-wage labor want to keep those wages low. Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson (R-Henderson) has generally been veering far to the right again after positioning himself as a moderate the previous two sessions, so he’s expected to fight both leading proposals. Governor Brian Sandoval (R) hasn’t yet signaled what (if anything) he’s willing to sign.
“Minimum wage isn’t meant to be living wage. It’s a starting wage.”
Former Assembly Member and current Real Water guy Brent Jones (R-Enterprise) went on to claim workers are paid so low because “they don’t have skill set.” He also claimed that some workers “don’t even know how to show to work on time.”
The others who testified against AB 175 were generally not as incendiary. In an awkward twist, one of them used his time to complain to Assembly Member Maggie Carlton (D-Sunrise Manor) about her not choosing him to redo her pool. It’s unclear whether he did that as a result of Carlton needling opponents on claims the raising the minimum wage results in much higher costs for employers and consumers. She countered that items generally sell at the same price throughout the nation, regardless of differences in minimum wage law.
Opponents often claim, “We can’t afford a higher minimum wage.” However, the Economic Policy Institute’s research has found no difference in economic performance for states that have raised the minimum wage in recent years. EPI and the Center for American Progress have also researched how raising the minimum wage could actually lower low-wage workers’ reliance on public assistance programs. There are costs associated with raising the minimum wage, but those costs can be outweighed by the benefits of paying more workers a living wage.
But in Carson City, the costs that are weighed the most tend to be the political ones. We’ll see if this week’s actions move the needle enough to compel the Governor and the Legislature to raise the minimum wage.