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Lawmaker, faith groups make plea to raise Utah minimum wage

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 11 2014 4:50 p.m. MST

Rep. Lynn Hemingway, D-Salt Lake City, proposes to raise Utah's minimum wage to $10.25 an hour and give restaurant servers and those who work mostly for tips a $1 increase to $3.13 an hour. (Jordan Allred, Deseret News) Rep. Lynn Hemingway, D-Salt Lake City, proposes to raise Utah's minimum wage to $10.25 an hour and give restaurant servers and those who work mostly for tips a $1 increase to $3.13 an hour. (Jordan Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — A Salt Lake City catering company set a new minimum wage for its workers this month, and a Utah lawmaker wants the state to do the same for everyone who holds a job.

Utah Food Services, the caterer for the Salt Palace Convention Center and South Towne Expo, bumped its hourly wage to at least $10.10, nearly $3 more per hour than Utah's current rate of $7.25.

Owners Robert and Susan Sullivan say raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do.

"Lower wage earners in Utah and throughout the country need higher pay to meet the costs of the basic necessities of life," Robert Sullivan said.

He encouraged political and corporate leaders in Utah to follow suit and "help those at the poverty level who are working to help themselves."

Rep. Lynn Hemingway, D-Salt Lake City, proposes to raise Utah's minimum wage to $10.25 an hour and give restaurant servers and those who work mostly for tips a $1 increase to $3.13 an hour. Hemingway's bill, HB73, would apply only to workers ages 17 and older.

"What we're trying to do is help people get out of poverty," he said. "If you work full time, you deserve better than being in poverty."

Hemingway said a higher minimum wage would increase buying power, help the economy grow and keep families out of the social safety net.

The Coalition of Religious Communities, a multifaith group of 16 denominations in the state, expressed support in a news conference Tuesday for Hemingway's bill and another one sponsored by Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City.

Mayne's bill, SB102, calls for the service industry to give employees and patrons a written disclosure of how it divides tips.

The Rev. Matt Sneddon, vicar of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, favors the two bills after seeing at least one member of his West Valley City congregation unable to afford a place to live even though she makes a little more than minimum wage.

"I think right now the minimum wage isn't really livable. What we need is something that enables people to actually do the things we consider a living, have a home, have food, have clothes," Sneddon said.

Hemingway said he knows his bill is a tough sell in the Legislature.

"I don't mean to make it a drain on the state. I mean to help people get out of poverty, and I hope that my colleagues see it as such," he said.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said she doesn't see any interest in raising the minimum wage.

"The House has been resistant to that over the years, and I don't see that that will change," Lockhart said, noting she personally opposes a hike.

"Minimum wage bills and minimum wage initiatives, if you will, in my mind tend to backfire," pricing young people out of the market, she said.

There are ripple effects to raising the minimum wage and generally those are negative consequences, according to the Salt Lake Chamber. Some workers could lose their jobs, while others could have their hours cut if employers have to pay higher wages, and those who stay might be asked to do more to justify the increased pay.

Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche

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