BATON ROUGE — The House Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations on Thursday killed four bills seeking to raise the minimum wage through different approaches.
Louisiana is one of five states that does not have its own minimum wage.
House Bill 472, sponsored by state Rep. Tammy Phelps, D-Shreveport, sought to increase the tipped minimum wage. Presently, tipped employees, defined as those who make at least $30 per month in tips, can be paid as little as $2.13 an hour by their employers as long as they make at least $7.25 after tips.
The bill would have increased the employers’ part of the wage to $4.26 an hour.
“None of the good times that we offer here in Louisiana would be possible if it were not for our service employees to work for these businesses,” Phelps said.
Megan Klock, director of operations at Ruffino’s, a high-end restaurant, spoke in opposition to the bill.
“Tipped employee labor at Ruffino’s runs about 4 or 5 percent on a periodic basis,” Klock said. “So for 5 percent of our cost of labor, to double that tip credit rate would double our labor percentage. That means we would immediately take four to five basis points off the bottom line in an industry that we are already working on very thin margins.”
House Bill 101, sponsored by state Rep. Malinda White, I-Bogalusa, sought to raise the minimum wage for state employees to $9 an hour.
White told the committee that she used to earn the minimum wage as a single mother.
“It’s not right,” she said.
State Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton, said public employees making below $9 in Louisiana were “unskilled laborers.”
Peter Robins-Brown, executive director for Louisiana Progress, pushed back on Horton’s characterization.
“These are skilled jobs,” Robins-Brown said. “I'm not very good with landscaping, you know, but I think that's a skill. You know, I don't think that any job is unskilled.”
Horton clarified that she meant that the workers were unskilled when they were hired but learn skills on the job.
House Bill 311, sponsored by state Rep. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, sought to set the minimum wage to $10 an hour in 2023 and $12 in 2024.
“People will pay what they have to pay, and of course, that's their profit margin that's going to go down,” Marcelle said. “I understand that, but what I don't understand is people who have been elected by the citizens of the state not putting the people first. I'm all for businesses. I believe the same thing that Rep. White said — when we put the money in the hands of the citizens, they will spend the money in the economy.”
State Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City, opposed the bill, arguing that it would make it harder for job seekers to find positions.
“I think it actually makes Louisiana worse off and reduces opportunities for employment,” Crews said.
House Bill 229, sponsored by Rep. Kyle Green, D-Marrero, sought to place a constitutional amendment raising the minimum wage to $11.65 on the ballot so that voters could decide whether they want it.
“The reason why I put in $11.65 an hour was I thought it was a middle-of-the-road approach, because when you take into consideration as to what the minimum wage increase was when it was enacted by Congress in July of 2007 to the current level, at seven and a quarter, when you do the CPI index,” Green said, “what that is now the value is $11.65 an hour.”
“So basically, what it would be doing, should the people approve this amendment, is it would keep right with inflation,” Green said.
Frankie Robertson, president of the Amandla Group, which aims to help the Black community overcome health inequities, spoke in favor of the bill.
“If you ask us as employees and people as humans and not a business lobby, then we will tell you that we are not a burden to the very businesses that we helped to thrive,” Robertson said. “We are in essence the backbone of the business, and we deserve to have people that raise our minimum wage to pay for the work that we do.”
Jim Patterson, vice president of government relations for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, argued against the concept of a minimum wage.
“Right now, wages are finding their level based on the high demand for labor and the shortage of labor,” Patterson said. “That's the way that an economy will work if there isn't the interference that, unfortunately, government has chosen by setting a minimum wage.”
Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has proposed increasing the minimum wage several times since he took office in 2016. But the Legislature, which is led by Republicans, has blocked each attempt.