Thursday, April 11, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Phoung Tran had no other choice but to stop attending UNR.
Her wages of $9 per hour weren’t enough to make ends meet, her school hours took up too much time, and the cost of living and school books continued to increase.
“My story is not unique. I am one of the tens if not hundreds of thousands of former students in this country who were forced to abandon their career aspirations because of low wages and high rent, tuition and cost of living,” said Tran, a student-action organizing fellow with Acting in Community Together in Organizing Northern Nevada.
Nevada Assembly Bill 456 could help remedy her situation. The bill, introduced Wednesday by Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, in the Assembly Committee on Commerce and Labor, would raise the minimum wage in Nevada to $12 an hour or $11 an hour for hourly workers whose employers provide health insurance. The measure revives a proposal that then-Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed in 2017.
As the bill is currently written, the state’s minimum wage would increase by 75 cents annually until the $12 and $11 levels are met. A conceptual amendment filed by Frierson would change that to $9 on Jan. 1, 2020, and then increase $1 annually until reaching the new standard.
“I don’t believe that we have to indefinitely keep minimum wage at its current level in order to support a growing economy, and I think that our economy can sustain increasing rates as the cost of living increases,” Frierson said. “And I think that we have to have this conversation about making sure people can live off of full day’s work, a full-time job.”
Nevada minimum wage is currently $8.25 an hour or $7.25 for workers receiving health insurance. If the bill becomes law, the Silver State would join 10 other states in increasing it to at least $12 in the future. Three states already have a $12 minimum wage. Washington, D.C., currently has the highest at $13.75 an hour. Seven states, including California and Illinois, will increase to a maximum of $15.
Gov. Steve Sisolak in the past has signaled his support for a staggered approach increasing the minimum wage, but said he would not support a measure that would increase the number too quickly.
Opposition fell firmly into two camps: those who thought the measure would hurt the state economy and those who thought the measure didn’t go far enough.
Alanna Fitzgerald, a licensed social worker, asked the committee to consider amending the bill to bring the minimum wage up to $15 an hour, while thanking Frierson for working on the bill.
“One thing I know for sure is that an increase in the minimum wage is needed now,”Fitzgerald said. “There is no question there.”
Paul Moradkhan, vice president of government affairs for the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber conducted an internal survey that showed members said a minimum wage increase would hurt their business and could lead to reactions such as decreased hours for employees or increased costs for goods.
Laura Nowlan, executive director of the Nevada Hispanic Business Group, bemoaned the measure as further regulations on small businesses.
“We are, as small-business owners, the heartbeat of America, and so then as legislators making the decisions, you need to understand that if we are the heartbeat of America, the more regulations, fine and restrictions that you put out there for us, the harder it makes it for us to be able to help our economy,” she said.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 12,000 hourly wage workers currently make at or below the minimum wage (some occupations such as babysitter and cab drivers are exempted), or 1.4 percent of the hourly workforce in Nevada.
The committee took no action and no immediate upcoming hearings are set on the bill.