March toward a nationwide $15 wage picks up steam

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Another step was taken Tuesday in the march toward a nationwide $15 minimum hourly wage when Illinois Gov. Jay Pritzker signed a bill to raise his state’s pay floor to that level by 2025.

“Today we celebrate,” the Democrat said in signing the bill, noting that the pay of an estimated 1.4 million workers in the state will increase starting with a rise in the minimum wage to $9.25 on Jan. 1.The accomplishment here is nothing short of historic.”

Illinois is the latest in a wave of states to take up a $15 wage after Democrats’ strong showing in the November elections.

Two weeks ago, New Jersey Gov. and Democrat Phil Murphy signed a similar measure to hit that wage level, but by 2024. 

In Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont and fellow Democrats in the state legislature have set passage of a $15 minimum wage as a key government objective for 2019, along with 12 weeks of paid parental leave. The party controls the state House and Senate.

Leaders of Maryland’s Democratic-controlled House and Senate have similarly vowed to hammer through a $15 wage, citing research that indicates 61% of the state’s residents support the so-called living wage. Hearings are being held on the measure, which has been criticized by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. The state raised its minimum wage last summer to $10.10 per hour.

At least one of the wage-hike bills introduced in the Maryland legislature would repeal the state’s tip credit, the break that allows restaurants and other employers to count the gratuities of servers and bartenders toward their wages. 

Some lawmakers have also voiced support for adopting different minimum wages for different parts of the state, the approach successfully taken by New York, where workers in New York City and its suburbs are entitled to a higher rate. The employees of quick-service restaurants, for instance, have a minimum wage of $15 an hour. Their counterparts in most parts of the state will not be guaranteed that wage until 2021.

A measure calling for a $15 hourly wage was voted down in January by the legislature of Virginia.

Currently, five states have passed legislation to raise their minimum wage to $15 an hour: Massachusetts, California, New York, New Jersey and Illinois. Legislation has also been enacted in the District of Columbia. 

Most of the wage-hike laws call for a gradual climb toward $15, with the minimum to be adjusted afterward in most instances in accordance with a cost of living index. 

Their proposals come as restaurants are already facing strong upward pressure on wages because of a tight labor supply. Units of the Texas Roadhouse casual-dining chain spent an additional 8.8% to staff their restaurants on any given week of 2018, executives told investors yesterday.

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