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NH business owners respond to President's $10.10 minimum wage challenge

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 29. 2014 10:53PM

From pizza parlors to the State House, bosses on Wednesday pondered a suggestion from President Obama to raise their wages to $10.10 an hour, a minimum wage not expected to get through Congress easily, if at all .

After lauding a Minneapolis pizzeria owner for raising wages to $10, the President urged business owners to do the same. In focusing on pizza parlors, he chose a business that struggles with tight margins and high employee turnover.

"People don't want to spend more than $10 for a pizza. I'd have to sell a lot of pizzas to pay someone $75 for a shift," said Don Robey, manager of Luisa's Italian Pizza in Manchester. He said he pays managers and longtime employees more than $10 an hour, but much of his help are high-school students. If workers get a raise for no reason, they have no motivation to work harder, Robey said.

But at the pizza restaurant 900 Degrees, owner Priscilla Lane-Rondeau said most of her workers make $10 an hour. The exceptions are hostesses and some kitchen help such as dishwashers.

And even they earn more than the state minimum of $7.25 an hour, she said.

"The minimum wage is very low for the quality of people we would like to get in," Lane-Rondeau said.

In his State of the Union address, Obama said he will demand a minimum pay rate of $10.10 on all future federal contracts. "To every mayor, governor, state legislator in America, I say you don't have to wait for Congress to act — Americans will support you if you take this on," he said.

Gov. Maggie Hassan said nothing when asked via email about low wages in state government and state contracts.

"We have not had an opportunity to explore those suggestions," said her spokesman, Marc Goldberg.

The state of New Hampshire pays 560 workers less than $10.10 an hour, according to Administrative Services Commissioner Linda Hodgdon, who oversees the state personnel office. Most of them — 350 — work on labor crews at state parks and earn $9.96 an hour.

"They're part-time, summer jobs, seasonal. They're filled by college students and retirees," said Lorna Colquhoun, spokesman for the state Department of Resources and Economic Development. State contracts that involve federal dollars must comply with federal regulations that set base pay for construction and service workers. But vendors with other state contracts have no such requirement, Hodgdon said.

The city of Manchester offers only two jobs that start at less than $10.10 — library page and recreation aide. Mayor Ted Gatsas said pay is determined when a worker is hired.

"If they're lifeguards, they're lifeguards. It's a part-time, summer job," he said.

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