Minimum wage hike: Small for some, fine for others | SierraSun.com

Minimum wage hike: Small for some, fine for others

Joanna Hartman
Sierra Sun

Kiernan Sullivan started his second season as a snowboard technician with a raise thanks to California’s increase in minimum wage.

Sullivan’s employer, Alpine Meadows Ski Resort, now pays him 75 cents more per hour this year than last.

Sullivan says the bigger paychecks help him pay his rent, but after he spends money on basic food and living costs there is still very little money left over for other spending.

“It’s not easy to live up here,” said Judy Lee, Alpine Meadows Ski Resort human resources coordinator. “We want to have good employees, so we just have to pay a bit more.”

The Jan. 1 state minimum wage increase is causing some local businesses to boost their prices and others to pay higher non-minimum earnings. But in a resort area like North Tahoe and Truckee, many employers already pay their workers more than the required $7.50.

Entry-level employees at Alpine Meadows received a pay raise at the beginning of the season because of the hike in state wages. In order to attract and retain good employees, the resort has to pay more than the minimum, Lee said. Lift operators now make $8 per hour compared to last season’s $7.25.

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Because the ski industry is so competitive, both for the labor force and for customers, the resorts typically pay more than the minimum wage, said Bob Roberts, executive director of the California Ski Industry Association.

“In the long term there’s a perception of a ratcheting effect,” Roberts said.

But he said he doesn’t think California’s increase will affect lift ticket prices.

“I don’t see this as a big issue in our industry,” he said.

McDonald’s in Truckee has felt the heat of California’s new hourly pay requirements. Training Manager Ricardo Baldez said the fast-food restaurant even had to jack up some food prices by about 10 cents.

“But we’ve been busy,” Baldez said. “It’s been fine.”

The Store in Tahoe City hasn’t paid minimum wage since 1998. Because of the limited labor force in the area, store manager Lisa Adams said she prefers to keep a smaller staff of employees who have more responsibility.

Rite Aid in Kings Beach also pays all employees more than minimum wage. The state-mandated increase has had little effect on either business, according to the managers.

Many minimum wage earners in the North Shore region are servers, bartenders and bussers. Steamers in Kings Beach has had to increase its menu prices within the last two weeks, said manager Jon Reeves.

Sunnyside in Tahoe City budgeted this year to incorporate the wage increase. They have no plans to increase any menu prices.

“It’s the cost of doing business,” managing partner Jeff Oxandaboure said. “Our philosophy right now is to not pass that cost on to our guests. But it will affect our bottom line.”

Beginning the first of the year, California added 75 cents to the $6.75 minimum wage, with another 50 cents to be added on beginning in 2008, setting the minimum wage at $8 per hour. The $8-an-hour minimum wage would be the highest in the nation today.

Additionally, Congress voted Jan. 10 an increase of $2.10 in minimum wages, bumping national pay from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour over 26 months. The measure will now go to Senate for consideration.