Minimum wage hike likely to hit restaurants, ski resorts, hotels | SierraSun.com

Minimum wage hike likely to hit restaurants, ski resorts, hotels

David Bunker
Sierra Sun

Sun file photoProspective ski resort employees seek seasonal winter work at the Tahoe ski resorts' job fair in this Sierra Sun file photo. If state legislation on the minimum wage passes, ski workers and other service industry employees will all be paid $8 an hour or more by 2008.

Local low-wage workers stand to get a pay raise if state legislation pushing the minimum wage up by $1.25 passes the California Assembly.

In communities packed with low-wage businesses such as restaurants, hotels and ski resorts, Truckee and North Tahoe will feel the effect of the proposed $8 minimum wage, business owners said.

Sawtooth Ridge Cafe owner Nanci Davis, who says she pays workers more than the minimum wage, said an $8 starting wage would translate into higher prices on the menu.

But while “it’s tough to stay in business in this town,” Davis said she knows that entry-level workers need all the money they can get to meet the expensive living costs in North Tahoe.

“Tip income is good income, but you also have to weather the times when it’s not so busy,” she said.

The wage hike, which passed the state Senate and now must be approved by the Assembly, has the support of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as well as key Democrats. The bill would add 75 cents to the $6.75 minimum wage on Jan. 1 2007 and then another 50 cents beginning in 2008, setting the minimum wage at $8 per hour. The $8-an-hour minimum wage would be the highest minimum wage in the nation today.

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While many local businesses say they already pay above the minimum wage, there are a slew of local workers, including hundreds of ski lift operators and ticket sellers brought in from other nations each winter, who will be among the 2.35 million people a UC Berkeley study says will get a raise if the bill passes.

Last year, international workers operating ski lifts said they were making $7.25 an hour.

“It’s going to happen and it’s not something we are going to sit here and wring our hands about,” said Bob Roberts, executive director of the California Ski Industry Association. His phone has been ringing with calls from individual resorts worried about the legislation, he said.

“By and large we don’t pay the minimum wage, but it does tend to ratchet up the line,” Roberts said. “Everyone will be looking for some sort of bump.”

Roberts said he did not expect the wage hike, which he calls a “done deal,” to mean higher priced lift tickets.

Ryan Schrader, a waiter at Tahoe City restaurant Sol y Lago, said the wage increase may not seem like a very big deal to servers who make a steady stream of tips during the busy seasons. But to other restaurant staff, the increase would be a big benefit.

“The guy making minimum wage as a dishwasher, he’s stoked,” said Schrader. “That’s an extra $150 to $200 per month in his pocket.

According to the Berkeley study, the majority of the 2.35 million workers who would benefit from the wage hike are Latino and many are women.

California Sen. Dave Cox, whose district runs from the Oregon border to the outskirts of Sacramento, opposed the bill, saying “this wage increase simply won’t work for the small businesses in the rural portions of my district, many of whom are barely surviving.”

Cox said the legislation will further weaken the frail business climate in portions of his district.

” Sierra Sun reporter Joanna Hartman contributed to this article.

– Federal minimum wage: $5.15 per hour

– California minimum wage: $6.75

– Proposed California minimum wage on Jan. 1 2007: $7.50

– Proposed California minimum wage on Jan. 1 2008: $8