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Effort Underway to Increase Alaska's Minimum Wage

August 29, 2013|By Abby Hancock | Channel 2 News

Anchorage, Alaska — Sponsors of an initiative petition to increase Alaska's minimum wage, are working to gather enough signatures by January to put the issue on the August 2014 ballot.

The bill would increase Alaska's minimum wage to $9.75 by 2016 -- two dollars more than the $7.75 that minimum wage workers currently earn.

The initiative is co-sponsored by three former state labor commissioners. Sponsor Ed Flanagan explained although Alaska's minimum wage is 50 cents higher than the federal wage, it still ranks 14th highest in the U.S. States like Florida and Arizona, with lower costs of living, have a higher minimum wage than Alaska.

"We don't necessarily need to be the highest in the country but we ought to be close to it given our cost of living," Flanagan said.

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According to Vince Beltrami, president of the Alaska AFL-CIO, the average full-time minimum wage worker in the state will make about $16,000 per year.

"The poverty level for a family of two in Alaska is right around $20,000 a year so for a low-wage, fast food or retail worker, they more than likely are going to have to work a second job," Beltrami said.

Protests over low pay took place in several cities in the Lower 48 on Thursday as thousands of chain fast food restaurant workers walked off the job. Many are demanding an hourly wage of $15 -- what they say is enough to live on. The strike did not reach Alaska.

Richard Sanchis, owner of Arctic Roadrunner, said it's unrealistic to ask for that high of pay in the food service industry. He said if he could pay his employees more, he would.

"If (the public) come here and pay $15-$20 for lunch, we'd be glad to pay people more money. But the general public doesn't want to do that," Sanchis said.

Sanchis starts his employees at minimum wage, but they receive raises based on their experience. According to Sanchis, some of his long-time employees make up to $60,000 per year.

"Minimum wage was never designed to raise a family. Minimum wage is a starting point. It's an opportunity for you to learn and grow," Sanchis said.

That's what 18-year-old Madison Delimont says she worked hard to do, starting out making minimum wage four years ago. Now, she makes $10.50 hourly as a prep cook.

According to Beltrami, the service industry is often characterized as employment for teenagers looking for after-school work, but that is no longer the case. The average fast food worker is 28 years old, and a quarter of them are trying to raise children, he said.

"Alaska is a lot more expensive place to live in the U.S. Our minimum wage is lower here," Beltrami said. "We need to do something to address that."

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