Assembly considers a hike in the minimum wage

At the El Sombrero, it's an easy lunch rush. Owner Irma Aguirre has made this place a business that's nortoriously tough. She pays her eight or so workers Nevada's minium wage: $8.25 an hour.

If she had to raise it?

What would happen is we would just simply cut back on hours if we can't afford payroll. We struggle to make payroll every two weeks as it is,” she tells me as we sit in her restaurant.

This debate about numbers, is really a debate about people: the peopl who run a business on one side...the people who work in them...on the other.

Which brings us to Harold.

“I've been with Five Guys for almost two years now, and I definitely love the company,” he tells me.

He’s a management trainee at the popular burger joint’s Eastern Avenue location in Henderson. I met him Wednesday at the Grant Sawyer State Office Building, where he came to make a point.

He needs a raise.

“I make $8.75 an hour now, just got a quarter raise from $8.50 to $8.75, and it's still not enough. I am struggling every day to pay my bills, take care of my family and it’s kind of hard,” he says.

RELATED LINK | Workers nationwide 'fight for 15,' minimum wage increase

This hearing is for Assembly Bill 175, which would raise Nevada's minium wage to 15 bucks an hour...or 14, if the comapny offered health insurance.

Of Nevada's workforce of 1.3 million...more than 500,000 earn 15 bucks an hour or less, like Luz Maria, who works at McDonalds.

“Sheis here to let people know that a raise in the minimum wage will allow her to live a much more and just dignified life,” said Maria, through a translator.

The Legislature convened a week ago, and at the capitol in Carson City, Democrats are making a wage hike one of their issues. Besides AB175, another bill in the Senate, SB106, proposes a more modest increase: $12 dollars an hour; $11, if the business offers health insurance.

In this debate, fast food has been a focus. Washington-Carnes, who’s 59, says it’s no longer a job just for teenagers. “38 to 39 is the minimum age of a worker in the fast food workplace,” he tells me.

“At 59 years old, I’m one of the oldest workers in my store, and yet I get up and I come to work with a smile on my face, despite the fact that I may be in pain, not feeling good, and I try to give my customers 100 percent, because they deserve it,” he says.

At today’s hearing, Republican Ira Hansen of Sparks said illegal immigrants were part of the problem, holding down the wages of other Nevadans.

Restaurant owner Irma Aguirre says she’s sympathetic to those workers who want more. But in the restaurant business, she tells me she has little room to maneuver.

“I want everyone to make more money. However, right now, it would hurt us,” she says. “Why? The economy is not as strong as people say it is.”

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