HAGÅTÑA (The Guam Daily Post) — Local business owners and managers, and at least one local resident who just found a job and said he’d like to keep it, testified in support of legislation that would delay the minimum wage increase.
“With me, I just recently got hired and I would hate to see the company that just recently hired me to have to reduce the amount of hours they’re planning to give me or possibly let me go cause they have to now increase everyone’s pay to $9.25 an hour,” said Dominic Hernandez.
“I’m one of the lucky ones who managed to find a job, and I’d like to hold on to it as long as I could,” he said.
Sen. Sabina Perez, whose legislative committee has oversight over labor, held a hearing on Bill 24-36. Sen. James Moylan, the bill’s primary author, said the bill would simply delay an increase in the minimum wage from $8.75 to $9.25 from March 2021 to March 2022. Sens. Chris Duenas, Frank Blas Jr. and Mary Torres are co-sponsors of the legislation.
Many local businesses are struggling to survive and delaying the minimum wage increase would give them some breathing room, Moylan said.
Bryan Duenas, owner and manager of local restaurant Poki Fry, said the timing of the minimum wage increase for him is a matter of survival — particularly in light of the pandemic and the restrictions he’s having to work with. He’s already had to make the tough decision to let go of 18 of his 43 employees.
“The closures and extreme restrictions imposed by the government have forced me to permanently close my new second location for good,” Duenas told senators.
“My decision to close was tough to swallow as I still have financial obligations to fulfill, but even tougher for me to have to let my employees go.... Given the uncertainty of the economic stability in 2021, this bill will make a difference in helping the survival of my business and to keep the employees I have now.”
He noted it isn’t just a single business that suffers when a shop has to be closed.
“Please do all you can to support this bill and to vote to enact its provisions into law. A one-year delay would be tremendous for all our island's struggling businesses,” he said.
Small business owner Christine Baleto said the recent minimum wage increase in 2015 hurt her ability not just to maintain health insurance, gym memberships and other benefits for her staff, but eventually, she had to let go of some employees.
“We not only had to contend with higher personnel costs but increased prices from goods we purchased locally as well. It became extremely difficult to keep the business open with rising rent, food costs, utility costs and taxes,” she stated. “When you raise the operating costs of businesses, it does not affect just your own specific business, but is felt in the higher costs from your suppliers and vendors who must also raise their prices.”
She said when the pandemic hit last year, the blow to her business was devastating.
“We had to lay off employees who had been with us for years. I cannot adequately describe the emotional pain a business owner feels at having to advise employees who have worked hard for them — that you can no longer provide them a job.”
She said closing down a business “that you have spent 10 years building, in which you put everything you own as collateral to pursue your dream, is painful.”
“Some people believe that it is easy to be in business and that if you own one, you are rich. Quite the opposite is the case for a majority of business owners who are line staff, janitors, administration, runners, etc. You are not rich — you are working long hours essentially free of charge to make your business successful,” she said.
“The proposed wage increase threatens many of our businesses who have managed to hold on during the pandemic."
“We have seen many already shut down. These are not just small businesses, but iconic ones that have been in our community for years - employing our people, paying taxes, and donating goods and services,” Baleto said.
Baleto added that while she understands the phased reopening from the lockdown, which means fewer than 100% occupancy is required for safety, it also means businesses can’t make money to cover all of their expenses.
“This proposed increase will be the proverbial nail in the coffin for many of them. When a business shuts down, all the employees that worked for them will no longer have a job,” she added. “Laying off workers and thereby decreasing the number of people working in our community does not help address poverty levels. For those that lost their jobs, they would be in a worse position as they do not have any income and have to endure a higher cost of living caused by increased prices.”