Gov. Raimondo calls on lawmakers to raise minimum wage by $1.10 to $10.10 per hour

Associated Press

Gov. Gina Raimondo teamed up with union leaders Monday to call on lawmakers to raise the state's minimum wage again.

The Democratic governor said increasing the hourly minimum by $1.10 to $10.10 per hour will boost the economy, and it's "the right thing to do."

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"What we have to do is support business, but also support our workers with job training programs and with reasonable wages," Raimondo said. "And I'll tell you this, nobody who works full time should have to live in poverty. It's not right."

Raimondo spoke at the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 328 headquarters in Providence. The union represents about 12,000 people in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts, primarily in the retail food industry. Raimondo's grandfather, Joe, co-founded the union 77 years ago when he was a butcher at a supermarket.

The union supports a raise, though most members already make more than the minimum. George Nee, president of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, also attended to lend his support.

"This is about putting money in the pockets of hard-working Rhode Islanders, who get up every morning, go to work, do their jobs and they just need to have a boost," Nee said. "And this will boost the whole economy."

Though Nee personally endorsed Raimondo during the governor's race, other labor leaders didn't back her because she overhauled the state's public pension system as treasurer. Public-sector unions and retirees are challenging the changes in court.

Raimondo said she's not pushing for a higher minimum wage now to appease the unions — it's something she campaigned on and feels strongly about.

But, Raimondo said, $10.10 per hour is still not enough to "lift families out of poverty." She said she's proposing a "jobs budget" on Thursday, a budget proposal that puts creating middle-class jobs front and center.

Rep. David Bennett and Sen. Erin Lynch are sponsoring bills this session to raise the hourly minimum to $10.10 beginning Jan. 1. Bennett said Raimondo's support will hopefully convince lawmakers who are undecided.

The General Assembly approved a $1 raise in the minimum wage last year, to $9 per hour.

Organizations representing small businesses, the hospitality and food industries, home health care and hospice agencies and others have said they can't afford another increase and it would be "bad for business."

Raimondo said paying higher wages helps businesses attract higher-quality employees and retain them, which saves money.

Deborah Norman, who owns two restaurants in Providence, said at the union headquarters that higher wages will help increase workforce productivity, which, in turn, makes businesses more efficient.

Lawmakers are also considering whether to raise the subminimum wage for tipped workers. Raimondo hasn't taken a stance on that proposal. She is directing the head of the state's labor department to look into the issue.