State legislation seeks higher minimum wage

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 11, 2007

MONTGOMERY &8212; Groups representing the poor and union workers rallied on the Statehouse steps yesterday in support of legislation that would boost the paychecks of an estimated 350,000 Alabamians by raising the minimum wage in the state to $7.25 per hour.

The legislation&8217;s sponsor, Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, said Congress hasn&8217;t raised the national minimum wage of $5.15 an hour in 10 years, and it&8217;s time for the Alabama Legislature to &8220;give the working people a long-deserved raise.&8221;

Kelley Smith, president of the Demopolis Chamber of Commerce said, &8220;It&8217;s really difficult to say exactly how the minimum wage increase is going to effect our area. Looking at it from the business perspective, you would hope that more money made in an area will mean more money spent in that same area but you also have to realize how much it is going to increase your payroll, payroll taxes and other associated expenses. To some small businesses, expenses like this can be detrimental.&8221;

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Stewart Burkhalter, president of the Alabama AFL-CIO, said he doesn&8217;t know of any of his members who are paid the minimum wage, but union members showed up at the rally Tuesday to support those on the bottom of the pay scale.

Todd&8217;s bill is scheduled for consideration today by the House Commerce Committee. The freshman lawmaker urged about 50 supporters at the rally to call legislators about the bill, but Burkhalter said later it&8217;s an uphill fight.

Research by the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute in Washington estimates that 126,000 Alabama workers, or 6.3 percent of the state&8217;s work force, make less than $7.25 per hour and would directly benefit from Todd&8217;s bill.

Lacornia Harris of Kora&8217;s Place in Demopolis said he thinks it would not affect his business initially.

Traditionally, when the minimum wage goes up, those making slightly above the minimum wage also see a pay hike, and that spillover effect should boost the bill&8217;s total impact to 350,000 Alabama workers, the institute estimates.

Rosemary Seabron, manager at Demopolis&8217; Factory Connection says that the stores wages are based on what the company sets.

Business groups have lined up against the legislation.

Rosemary Elebash, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, said raising the minimum wage could discourage a small business from adding an entry-level worker.

The reason, she said, is that once the minimum wage goes up, workers earning salaries above that must be raised, and soon a small business has no extra money left to hire a new employee.