This banner at UNR states the three goals of the Million Student March: Tuition free college, the cancellation of student debt and a $15 per hour minimum student worker wage. Photo by Natalie Van Hoozer.

From workers to politicians: Reno’s minimum wage debate

Renoites, from fast food workers to state politicians, are taking a stand on what the minimum wage should be.

Jessica Macias, employee of the Wendy’s restaurant chain, feels increasing the minimum wage would help Wendy’s employees in their struggle to cover living expenses. Macias said that, at the very least, $10 per hour would be an acceptable minimum wage for Wendy’s employees.

Currently, the state minimum wage is $7.25 per hour for workers with health benefits and $8.25 per hour for those without.

According to the Nevada Workforce Informer, in the Reno-Sparks area, the 10th percentile mean wage is $8.68 per hour. In other words, 90 percent of people in the Reno-Sparks area make more than $8.68 per hour and 10 percent make $8.68 per hour or less.

A $10 per hour wage, as Macias suggests, would be more in-line with the living wage calculated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT states that $10.11 per hour is a living wage for a single adult in Washoe County.

While in favor of a minimum wage increase, Macias does not agree with the Fight for $15, a nationwide campaign to raise the national wage to $15 per hour. Macias, a UNR student, is worried that such a high wage would make it easier for people like her Wendy’s co-workers not to pursue college and other higher education.

UNR Professor Elliott Parker, who has a doctorate in economics, said that he personally does not completely agree with this argument, as he thinks the minimum wage is still low in relation to the amount people can earn with skills and education. Therefore, he still thinks that college would be an incentive for Reno citizens even if the minimum wage were to be raised.

Taslima Shams, the president of the Young Democrats UNR chapter and a Jack in the Box restaurant employee also said she does not support a $15 per hour minimum wage. Shams said, “Smaller businesses obviously cannot afford it.”

Shams is concerned that a $15 per hour minimum wage would create economic disparity between large and small businesses due to the financial strain higher minimum wages would place on small businesses.

Parker said that if the minimum wage were to reach $15 per hour, Macias’ and Shams’ concerns might be possibilities. Parker added that a study by economists Card and Krueger showed that wage increases smaller than $15 per hour might not increase unemployment by a large amount but wage increases of $15 per hour or more might create higher unemployment.

Parker added that he personally is worried that a minimum wage as high as $15 per hour could significantly increase the number of unemployed people, but Nevadans will not know the impact of minimum wage increases in Nevada until more wage increases are implemented.

Democratic state Sen. Mo Denis said that, while he supports a $15 per hour minimum wage, he would like to see more real-world studies showing the ramifications that might possibly result from such a high wage.

UNR graduate student Amanda Summers, who researches poverty and homelessness in Reno, thinks that Reno can look to cities that have already implemented a $15 per hour minimum wage as examples. Summers specifically thinks Seattle, Washington, is an example which Reno can look to in order to make changes. According to Forbes, while Seattle does show more unemployment than the rest of the state of Washington, employment in both the state of Washington and Seattle is still above the average national job growth rate. Summers said that, using this type of information, “Reno has to learn: What is a reasonable increase to do in one jump to allow our smallest businesses to still survive?” According to Parker, the answer to this question will simply need to be tested.

Others, like Republican state Sen. James Settelmeyer disagree with Summers. He said, “I think $15 per hour is a pretty high jump,” and “determination of a number [for minimum wage] is almost impossible.” This does not mean Settelmeyer is resigned to the current minimum wage. In the 2015 Nevada legislative session, Settelmeyer supported a bill to raise the minimum wage to $9 per hour. As reported by the Las Vegas Sun, this bill also proposed repealing a law requiring that employees receive overtime pay if they worked more than 8 hours in a 24-hour period. Instead, employees would only receive overtime pay if they worked more than 40 hours in a week. Although the bill did not pass, Settelmeyer said he would vote for the same bill again if he were given the chance.

While politicians like Denis and Settelmeyer supported bills in the 2015 state legislative session, no action on minimum wage will be taking place until the next state legislative session in 2017.

In the meantime, many wage decisions will be made by local business owners. Some have already increased wages, like Falcon Roofing, a local construction company. “We recently have had to give substantial across-the-board wage increases to keep our employees,” said Julie Trotta, the general manager of the company. She attributes the need for this raise in pay to the current high demand for construction workers. As she said, “The law of supply and demand is in full swing.” She added, “I believe the economics of supply and demand will govern what a fair wage will be for each industry.”

Others do not think businesses can regulate themselves enough to fairly dictate wages. The Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada is currently working to support the Fight for $15 movement. Stacey Shinn, political director at PLAN said, “Fifteen dollars is just a start.” Shinn added that PLAN would like to advocate an even higher minimum wage, but is supporting the Fight for $15 in order to stand in solidarity with the national campaign. Although PLAN does not have any rallies or demonstrations organized for the near future because of the holidays, Shinn said raising the minimum wage is an issue PLAN will always support. As stated on PLAN’s website, the organization started interviews on Nov. 10 to hire someone to work with low wage workers in the Reno area on the minimum wage issue.

The minimum wage debate is also causing Reno college students to demonstrate. PLAN and others were involved in the Million Student March on Nov. 12 at UNR. This demonstration emphasized a $15 per hour minimum wage for all campus workers. The Reno Justice Coalition organized the march and its president, Escenthio Marigny Jr. said, “It’s no conspiracy theory that at this point, people cannot live off the minimum wage.”

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This banner at UNR states the three goals of the Million Student March: Tuition free college, the cancellation of student debt and a $15 per hour minimum student worker wage. Photo by Natalie Van Hoozer.

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Participants in the Million Student March hold signs advocating a minimum student worker wage of $15 per hour. Photo by Natalie Van Hoozer.

On Nov. 10, PLAN, the Reno Justice Coalition and others also demonstrated outside of Reno City Hall. As reported by the Reno Gazette-Journal, Reno City Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus said the city is planning to make the minimum wage for city workers $10.10 per hour. Brekhus also said the city is looking into requiring that certain city vendors pay a minimum wage of $10.10.

This article was finalized December 4, 2015, for Journalism 207 at the University of Nevada, Reno.

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