Delay sought for wage hike bills

Annie Guerrero-Hayes addresses the members of the House of Representatives during the public comments portion in last week's session. (Jon Perez)

Annie Guerrero-Hayes addresses the members of the House of Representatives during the public comments portion in last week’s session. (Jon Perez)

Two businesspersons have asked the House of Representatives to delay the passage of a bill that would raise the Commonwealth minimum wage to the federal level of $7.25 an hour.

House Speaker Rafael S. Demapan (R-Saipan) introduced House Bill 19-23, while Rep. Angel A. Demapan (R-Saipan) authored a separate bill, HB 19-187, which also aims to increase the minimum wage to the national level of $7.25.

Annie Guerrero-Hayes and Joaquin Villagomez took the podium and pleaded with House members during the public comments portion of a session last week to put off acting on the measures, saying it would adversely affect them.

Guerrero-Hayes, who is the assistant manager of Herman’s Bakery, reiterated an earlier stance against the planned minimum wage increase to the federal level. She said increasing the minimum wage again would have a great impact on the community. The last time the minimum wage saw an increase was in September, when it went up by .50 cents, from $6.05 an hour to $6.55 an hour.

“I was here two weeks ago and spoke against increasing the minimum wage. And we are still standing against it. We are asking the House to please delay this and have a public hearing. Have the community speak on the issue,” said Guerrero-Hayes.

“At least let the community have a say on what needs to be done or how to approach the issue simply because, when this was put out, comments were only asked from the Saipan Chamber of Commerce and the Civil Service Commission. The other members of the private sector were not asked,” she said.

She said that giving the other sectors of the community a chance to speak would give the House the opportunity to make a sound judgment and not just pass the law.

“So you could make a sound judgment and not go back just to repeal the law. Give small businesses the chance to speak their piece,” Guerrero-Hayes said.

SCC president Velma Palacios, in an earlier interview with the Saipan Tribune, said not all CNMI businesses and employers could afford paying their workers the increase in minimum wage.

Mom-and-pop stores, or small groceries, and other small businesses are one of their concerns. Their operations would be affected if the hourly rate of employees is immediately increased.

Guerrero-Hayes said there are consequences when it comes to increasing the minimum wage. “There is also the increase in the prices of goods. Herman’s will have no other recourse but to also raise our prices. …Just to think of increasing the prices of bread to $3 or higher, we also think of the people who don’t have enough money to buy goods or are under food stamps. We always put that as a factor.”

Villagomez supported Guerrero-Hayes’ concerns, adding that he recently had an air-conditioning unit cleaned and he paid $63, which used to be $30. “[Businesses] had already increased their prices.”

He added that the bill would take effect in 90 days after Gov. Ralph DLG Torres signs it into law. “They said that if the minimum wage goes up to $7.25, they would again increase it to $100. The impact on small businesses and the public is severe if the bill is passed. Please allow the public to speak.”

Jon Perez | Reporter
Jon Perez began his writing career as a sports reporter in the Philippines where he has covered local and international events. He became a news writer when he joined media network ABS-CBN. He joined the weekly DAWN, University of the East’s student newspaper, while in college.

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