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Minimum wage initiative moves forward

By Heather Hintze 10:44 PM December 20, 2013

Proponents want it increased to $9.75 by 2016. That's not sitting well with some business owners.

ANCHORAGE - Proponents of an initiative to increase the minimum wage are closer to getting it on the ballot.

The group now has more than 31,000 signatures.

The proposal would raise Alaska’s minimum wage to $8.25 in 2015 and to $9.25 in 2016.

“It’s been a long time since we increased; a lot of other states are passing us by or have passed us by,” said Vince Beltrami, president of the Alaska ALF-CIO. ”The lower-skilled, lower-wage workers need some relief so it’s the time that it should be getting pushed.”

The move isn’t sitting well with some businesses though.

At Once in a Blue Moose, employees already start at above minimum wage. Office Manager Hilary Fisher said if it’s raised, that could impact how much they’re able to pay workers in the future.

“I think it will make it more difficult for us to give people raises after they’ve been with us for a little while,” Fisher said. “We’ll have to figure out where that money will come from if we need to cut shifts or hours. We’re just going to have to look at that a lot more carefully if that starting point is forced up.”

Across town at Tastee Freez, employees start at the minimum but usually get a raise quickly.

Owner Rich Owens said it’s one of the few businesses that will still hire 14 and 15 year olds.

“More and more the kids that we have now that come to us don’t even have chores at home, so they don’t have a lot of the basic job skills like how to wash dishes, how to vacuum, how to clean,” Owens said. “Those are the kids that are coming to us many times that we have to start from scratch.”

He said it doesn’t make sense for those kids to start at $9.75 an hour, especially when most still live at home and don’t have many expenses.

“The intent of the minimum wage is to have a living wage for people who are paying rent and have vehicles and kids and medical expenses,” Owens said. “We’re not trying to penalize them at all. We’re in favor of the minimum wage in that aspect.”

Rachel Tragesser has worked at Tastee Freez for almost 12 years. She said it took her almost six years at the restaurant before she was making close to $9.75.

“It’s a little out there to have a 14, 15, 16 year old making almost $10 an hour to make fries,” she said.

If the minimum wage goes up, the prices at Tastee Freez might have to go up as well. Owens said his business won’t be able to compete with bigger chains like McDonald’s if he has to increase salaries.

“We don’t have that competitive edge that the big folks do,” Owens said. “We’re a neighborhood business that’s trying to stay here.”

He said the wage hike could put teenagers out of work — if the starting wage is higher, businesses might try to find people with more skills who are worth the extra money.

Proponents have until Jan. 17 to collect more than 30,000 signatures. The group plans to collect an extra 12,000 in case there are any duplicates. They also need to have qualified signatures from at least seven percent of voters in at least 30 House districts.

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