BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — Lawmakers made a push to increase the state minimum wage with four different bills Thursday, but all were denied in committee. Businesses said the cost would be detrimental – advocates said people can’t afford to live.
Louisiana has never had its own set minimum wage. It uses the federal minimum wage of $7.25, which was last raised in 2009. Tipped workers make $2.13 an hour, which has not been raised since 1991. Rep. C. Denise Marcelle’s bill would have raised the minimum wage to $12 over the course of two years. She said workers are not able to support their families and themselves with the current cost of living.
“If you really value them, you would pay them. I would not have had to hear that lady say that she has to work a full day just to pay for gas to get here,” Rep. Marcelle said.
Some representatives and business groups said people should be trying to work up towards higher-paying jobs over time.
“There needs to be a toolbox for the workers. There is one, it’s our education and training programs,” said Jim Patterson, vice president of government relations for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI).
LABI also said the increase in wages will be a major cost to small businesses – one they can’t afford. They said with bringing up the minimum wage, it would force them to raise the wages of everyone else to remain competitive and retain workers.
“We would immediately take four to five basis points off the bottom line in an industry that we are already working off, very thin margins,” said Megan Klock, director of operations for Ruffino’s.
Rep. Tammy Phelps pushed to double the tipped workers’ minimum wage from $2.13 to $4.26. She said that Louisiana makes millions of dollars off the restaurant industry and wants to see the servers get paid more for their services.
“[There] could not be a business without people, cannot be a business without employees. Why do I say people? Because employees are people first and they have homes to take care of, just like business owners,” Rep. Phelps said.
The same arguments were made for restaurants taking on a heavy burden to increase wages.
“Employers ought to have the freedom to make the decisions for what is best for their operation in order to keep their businesses open and flourishing and keep people employed,” Patterson said.
There was also a bill by Rep. Kyle Green that would ensure equal pay for women. Louisiana ranks at the bottom of the list for fair wages for women and has even worse rankings for equal pay for women of color.
Rep. Dodie Horton was quick to point out a law already on the books that would protect against discrimination through wages due to race, gender, age, etc.
“We already have this law, and I don’t believe passing a duplicate law will strengthen it any more than it already is,” said Rep. Horton.
Another representative suggested women aren’t being discriminated against, but make the choice to work less than men which earns them a lower wage. He brought up the ride-share service Uber and a study conducted to find out why they had such a big gender pay gap.
“The men were driving on holidays and weekends, they were driving at night. They’re driving to sketchy neighborhoods, picking up customers. Others wouldn’t. It’s a product of their choices, not because of any intentional, willful act to discriminate. That was just the choice of the driver,” Rep. Raymond Crews said.
In the end, all the bills were voted on down party lines and did not make it out of committee. Gov. John Bel Edwards had advocated for the bills and stated he would have signed them had they made it to his desk.