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Lt. Governor Kicks Off Minimum Wage Discussion in Nome

Nome City Council chambers were nearly empty Tuesday afternoon as Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell hosted the first of eight scheduled hearings to discuss Ballot Measure 3.

If passed, the initiative would raise Alaska’s minimum wage from $7.75 per hour to $8.75 per hour in January of next year, and to $9.75 per hour by 2016.

No community members attended the hearing in Nome–which was the first of eight public meetings scheduled before the November election. Despite the weak turn out, speakers from both “pro” and “con” camps advocated for their perspectives.

Former Alaska Labor Commissioner Ed Flanagan spoke via telephone. He said the current minimum wage is not a living wage, adding: “The minimum wage has ceased to provide its function, which is to put a floor under the wage system.”

Kevin Turkington sits on the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Leadership Council and also attended via phone. He argued that a higher minimum wage would eliminate low-wage positions typically held by young people–thus eliminating a source of job experience for young workers.

This argument fell under criticism later in the hearing, as Flanagan highlighted what he called the “youth exception” to Alaska’s current labor laws. According to Alaska statute, workers under 18 years old–and working 30 hours or less per week–are only guaranteed pay at the federal minimum wage, not necessarily the state one.

The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour, which is 50 cents less than Alaska’s minimum wage of $7.75 per hour. Flanagan said those most affected by the initiative will be workers in food service and retail, and those who live in rural communities.

Turkington countered that the minimum wage was never intended as a living wage, but a starting point for those entering the workforce–regardless of age.

The next public meeting on Ballot Measure 3 will take place in Barrow on Thursday, September 11, 2014. Voters will be able to testify and pose questions in person at the hearing, or by calling (855) 463-5009 to join the conference.

A full schedule of the initiative hearings is available on the Lt. Governor’s website.