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Minimum wage is a divisive issue

How people view the topic locally seemed to depend on whether they were business owners or employees.

How people view the topic locally seemed to depend on whether they were business owners or employees.

January 14, 2007|by DON AINES

TRI-STATE - The U.S. House of Representatives voted 315-116 last week to increase the federal minimum wage over two years from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour, but how people view the issue locally seems to depend on whether they are writing the paychecks or cashing them.

Serving up coffee Saturday at the Cup O' Joe in Greencastle, Pa., Jodi Carbaugh said the other family-owned business, Wolf's Baked Goods, is considering buying a programmable mixer.

"We won't need a skilled person if we buy the machine," Carbaugh said. Wolf's also is considering buying an automatic dishwasher for the business, which employs 20 people in production and retail jobs, she said.

Replacing people with machines means "no minimum wage, no benefits and no taxes," Carbaugh said. That is one possible consequence of raising the minimum wage and making labor more expensive, she said.

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"They cannot live off of $5.15 an hour unless they are single and live at home," Janet Nunemaker of Waynesboro, Pa., said of the current federal minimum wage.

The minimum wage bill still has to be passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Bush, but Pennsylvania raised its minimum wage to $6.50 an hour on Jan. 1, and it will go to $7.15 an hour on July 1. The rate in Maryland is $6.15 an hour, while in West Virginia, it is going up to $6.55 an hour in July and $7.25 an hour on July 1, 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Carbaugh said Wolf's unskilled and semiskilled employees were paid more than the minimum wage before the increase went into effect.

"If I have to pay the unskilled worker $7.25 an hour, I can't pay the skilled worker what they deserve," Carbaugh said.

Carbaugh's daughter, Jessica Carbaugh, said small business owners will be forced to choose between paying higher labor costs and reinvesting money into their businesses for new equipment.

"And better benefits," Jodi Carbaugh added.

"I think it should be up. It's hard for people to live on it now," said Glenn Toms, a Hagerstown musician. "It would be a whole lot better if people could earn more."

Ellen Crist of Chambersburg, Pa., said she earns more than the minimum wage at a hospital, but benefits are an important consideration.

"You can budget your money, but not your health expenses," Crist said. "That's a major one for me."

"It's going to hurt the small businessman like me," said John Carter, owner of The Dog House in Hagers- town. "I'm going to have to increase my prices ... and pass that on to the consumer."

A higher minimum wage will attract more illegal aliens willing to work for less than the minimum wage, said Wally Brooks of Hagerstown.

Opinions can be divided even within the same business.

"To me, the minimum wage should be the minimum amount you can live on," said Eileen Berger, co-owner of Just Lookin' Gallery in Hagerstown. That figure is about $10 an hour, she said.

"Good for the unskilled. Bad for the skilled. Bad for small business. Good for big business," said her partner, Bob Burkhammer.

"Small businesses need employees, but have a tight profit margin," Burkhammer said. Big corporations can avoid higher labor costs by transferring capital overseas, he said.

"That's a heck of a jump," Sharon Bowman, of B&B Dance Wear in Chambersburg, said of the proposed increase. The better solution, would be to index the minimum wage to add a cost-of-living increase each year, she said.

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