Calkin makes case for $15 minimum wage by 2022
A $15 an hour minimum wage isn’t a wild idea to Warwick Senator Jeanine Calkin.
“I think it is realistic. I think that anything that we set our mind to is possible if we focus and we try to get it done,” she said. “This is not crazy. It’s a phased approach over time.”
Last week, Calkin, along with Senators Walter Felag, Maryellen Goodwin, James Seveney, and Louis DiPalma, took a page out of Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign playbook and introduced bill S0510 that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022. For tipped wage workers, the $15 would kick in at 2026. She said the bill also has a provision that would continue to raise the minimum wage in a way that would keep up with the Consumer Price Index and cost of living.
Calkin was pleased when Governor Gina Raimondo proposed raising the minimum hourly wage to $10.50, but sees it as more of a starting point for further increases down the road.
“At $9.60, less than $300 a week is your take home after you take out your deductions. Even with $1,200 a month, after you pay your rent, your heat, your electric, what you have?” she said.
Raimondo’s Deputy Press Secretary Catherine Rolfe indicated that conversations on minimum wage are not over.
“The governor believes that no one working full time should live in poverty. That’s why, for the third time in a row, she has proposed to raise the minimum wage,” Rolfe said. “Our commitment to working Rhode Islanders has never been stronger, and the governor looks forward to continuing the conversation with legislators on this issue.”
The key to Calkin’s bill is incremental raises - it would bump the minimum wage to $11 by 2018 and raise it by $1 each year until it hits $15 in 2022. Calkin said the phased approach of raising the wage is helpful to businesses as it allows for predictability.
“One of the reasons we’ve laid it out like this is so that [businesses] know exactly when it’s going to go up. They know what to expect,” she said. “So when they do their budgeting and planning, they know what their salary expenses are going to be ahead of time.”
She said she has also heard from small business owners who want to pay their workers more, but are unable to do so because of price competition with other businesses that also pay minimum wage. Such an issue would be remedied if the minimum wage was already higher, she said, plus the minimum wage would no longer be a “bargaining chip” for politicians under the bill.
The increments to $15 for tipped workers increase at a slower pace, Calkin said, because those businesses would experience more than just a wage change.
“We want to make sure that businesses that pay their workers tipped wages have more time to adjust to making that change because we know it’s more of a change for them than it is to just raise the minimum wage,” she said.
A $15 minimum wage could change what Calkin calls the “archaic practice” of tipping. Tips should be a “thank you,” not the supplement for wages they have become, she said.
“Tipped workers can’t rely on their wages every week. I can’t imagine what that’s like when you don’t know from week to week how much money you’re going to take home to put food on the table, pay your rent, your heat,” she said. Relying on tips also doesn’t bode well for workers who have to take sick time or care for their sick children, she added.
Furthermore, Calkin sees bigger economic implications of a higher minimum wage. She has observed studies that indicate other wages, including salaried wages, increase when the minimum wage increases. That’s because if people have more money, they’ll spend more money, leading to more economic stimulation, she reasons.
“We have a lot of people [in Warwick] who work retail and service industries. I think that if those people have more money to spend, they’re going to go to restaurants more,” she hypothesized. “They’re going to maybe buy a car. It all goes back into the economy.”
An argument Calkin often hears, and rejects, is that “the kiosks” will soon replace humans working in minimum wage positions.
“[Kiosks] are already here, and that has nothing to do with the minimum wage... What I tell people in addition to that is if you don’t like them, don’t use them,” she said. “I don’t use them. I always look for a person.”
Calkin seems optimistic that the bill will be well received and remains focused on workers struggling to get by on the current minimum wage.
“If you think about 19,000 a year, that’s really, really low. If you’re working 40 hours a week, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty,” she said. “I really hope we get some movement. I think the sentiment is there among the people, and we just have to let our lawmakers know how important it is.”
Calkin said she enjoys talking to community members, and invites her constituents to contact her if they have input to share. She is also working on bills regarding overtime and single payer healthcare. She added that she supports Raimondo’s free tuition plan, saying it’s a good first step toward further action on higher education in the future.