Community seems mixed on raising minimum wage - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Community seems mixed on raising minimum wage

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by Ken Quintanilla

Guam - The debate on Bill 316 wages on and after three public hearings over the past week it appears the community is mixed on whether or not they believe the minimum wage should be increased on Guam.

Akripa Orichiro owns small maintenance and cleaning company employing nine workers. He says it doesn't pay that much but is grateful it's enough to feed their families. While raising the minimum wage would appear to help, he had to testify against Bill 316 during the measure's third and last public hearing. "If the minimum wage is increased from $7.25 to $10+, I would be forced to let go of my guys - the men that work for me as of now and it will also be affecting the number of jobs we can handle."

But it wasn't all opposition compared to the two previous hearings, as University of Guam student and aspiring social worker Renaysha Pangelinan said it's a step in the right direction. "Sure, we cannot fix all of Guam's problems, at least not today, but we can make gradual states to a socially just society. I believe Bill 316 is one of those steps the only way our island will fail is if we sit back and allow it to," she said.

The Guam chapter of the National Association of Social Workers shared that support saying an adjustment of the minimum wage to the economic realities of Guam is long overdue. Chapter manager Ovita Rebanio Perez on behalf of chapter president Amy Sue Borja Santos said, "We social workers witness everyday how living conditions of working poor people become breeding grounds for all sorts of social ills - such as substance abuse, family violence and other crimes."

25-year-old Mary Kate Donnell says despite having a college degree, like many, still lives paycheck to paycheck struggling to pay her bills. She did her own research on the proposal saying the good of raising the minimum wage outweighs the risk. "Our economy did not crash when wages were increased in 2007 or years that followed by increasing the minimum wage in stages we continue to put the people of Guam first," she said.

However, it's the three stages that has Ramona Jones Benitez questioning the legislation. What's most concerning is having the three raises right after each other without a break to see how it impacts our economy. "It's just mandated and it's going to happen no matter what's happening in the economy and I think politically speaking, repealing a minimum wage is going to be incredibly difficult. I think taking it one step at a time is really prudent and wise gesture for the Legislature to make," she said.

And while he says Bill 316 won't significantly affect his business, Triple J Enterprises president Jeff Jones says he's still concerned the effect it will have on many low-skilled workers. "A 39% increase in the minimum wage even over three years is a significant artificial increase in the price of labor, and will have a significant effect on the number of jobs available to the least skilled workers in our community," he projected.

Jones says only less than 5% of his full-time employees are paid the minimum wage. Vice Speaker Cruz meanwhile tells KUAM that testimonies against Bill 316 outweigh those in favor. The 10-day comment period will remain open for anyone wanting to submit testimony to Senator Rory Respicio's Committee on Labor. 
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