During an appearance Monday at United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 328, Governor Gina Raimondo called on the General Assembly to raise Rhode Island's $9 minimum wage to $10.10, effective in January.
"What we're here today to talk about is a concrete way that we can spark the comeback of Rhode Island and Rhode Island's economy, by putting money in the pockets of hardworking Rhode Islanders," Raimondo said, speaking before a group of union members. "That's what today is about."
Raising the minimum wage is popular with voters and Raimondo campaigned on the issue during her successful run for governor last year.
Speaking three days before a unveiling budget that could include significant cuts to close a $190 million deficit for the next fiscal year, Raimondo said Rhode Island's economy will grow if government combines its support for businesses and workers. "I don't think the solution is to just cut taxes and cut wages, and all good things will happen," she said. "Actually, if you look around the country, states that are pursuing that strategy aren't doing well. Look at Wisconsin, look at Kansas. It's not working."
Raimondo angered public employees by spearheading a dramatic 2011 overhaul of Rhode Island's pension system that remains the subject of a high-stakes court challenge.
Yet the governor was received warmly during her appearance at the UFCW union hall. James Riley, secretary-treasurer of UFCW, introduced Raimondo by nothing how her paternal grandfather, Joe Raimondo, a butcher, helped create the union. A short time later, Raimondo said of unions and their advocacy for their workers, "This is my story."
Later, speaking with reporters, Raimondo denied she was trying to mend fences with labor by calling for the minimum wage hike.
"I campaigned very hard on raising the minimum wage," she said. "It's something I feel very strongly about it ... This is the right thing to do for Rhode Island and Rhode Island's economy."
While some business people oppose raising the minimum wage, Raimondo said it will ultimately benefit businesses by helping to decrease turnover.
The higher wage faces good prospects on Smith Hill, according to statements by legislative leaders.
House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said, "I am open to raising the minimum wage and will carefully consider the proposal again this year. I have supported raising the minimum wage each of the last three years and I am mindful that our neighboring states have been increasing their wages as well. I have always believed we should be competitive with our neighbors, including maintaining the standard of living for our citizens."
Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed said, “Increasing the minimum wage provides working families with the income they need to meet basic needs, and it generates economic activity. I have been proud to support Senator Lynch’s legislation to increase the minimum wage in each of the past three years, and I look forward to working together with the Governor on this new proposal to ensure working Rhode Islanders earn a fair wage.”
Raimondo also called on Scott Jensen, director of the state Department of Labor and Training, to review the sub-minimum wage paid to tipped workers.
Restaurant Opportunity Centers United, a group advocating for raising the sub-minimum wage, expressed disappointment in Raimondo's response to calls for a higher sub-minimum wage. The group said many tipped workers are paid less than $3 an hour, and that RI's minimum wage was less than half its current rate -- $4.45 -- the last time that the state's sub-minimum wage was raised.
According to a fact sheet distributed by ROC United, "The restaurant industry is one of the only sectors with a bifurcated minimum wage -- and while men make up a small majority of non-tipped restaurant workers who make the standard minimum wage, women make up a large percentage of tipped workers."