In November of 2020, with Democrats’ focus on defeating Donald Trump at the top of the ticket, Republicans managed to flip the N.H. Legislature and Executive Council, taking total control of the state government, when GOP Gov. Chris Sununu is factored in.
Elections — the saying goes — have consequences. And the consequences for Granite Staters who don’t own businesses or have pricey vacation homes is becoming more apparent every day. Having no one around who could say “No” — at least for the next two years — they’ve enacted ill-advised abortion restrictions; widely expanded the school voucher program that transfers public money to private schools that lack any accountability; further eroded election rights; and they ran — not walked — back any progress the state might have made on racial and social justice in their zeal to gag teachers who might actually teach about the nation’s uncomfortable history of prejudice.
And they’ve taken direct aim at Granite State workers, at the behest of business owners and trade groups. They pushed anti-union “right to work” legislation that passed the Senate but was put off in the House and they killed efforts at comprehensive paid family leave in favor of the governor’s watered-down voluntary version.
And they’ve done what they can to keep the poor, poor.
Consider, for example, the recent report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition that found workers earning minimum wage cannot afford the cost of rents ANYWHERE in the United States. That’s especially true in New Hampshire, where a minimum-wage worker would have to toil for 136 hours per week to afford even the average one-bedroom space.
News of that sort is why there are calls for Congress to raise the national minimum wage, which is $7.25 per hour. That default rate is also New Hampshire’s minimum, since lawmakers have repeatedly refused to set a statewide minimum wage that’s any higher. Well, actually, GOP lawmakers have refused. When Democrats led both chambers of the Legislature in recent years, they twice passed bills to raise the minimum wage. Sununu vetoed them. The state’s minimum wage hasn’t moved since 2008.
With a Democrat in the White House and that party in nominal control of both the U.S. House and Senate, however, Granite State Republicans are nervous about federal action and have used their newfound power to take pre-emptive action.
While the minimum wage in the U.S. is truly minimal, it’s still far higher than the wage for workers who are expected to earn tips from customers and clients. The national minimum tipped wage is a frightful $2.13 per hour. The presumption — hardly guaranteed — is that workers such as waitstaff, bartenders, maids, transportation employees and others will actually make enough in tips to offset the lower wage.
Of course, the math is sketchy. Federal law allows employers to pay a tipped minimum wage to workers who would make more than $30 per week in tips alone. For a 40-hour work week, that amounts to an extra 75 cents per hour — still less than $3 per hour. Of course, many tipped workers do far exceed such meager wages; the point, however, is that employers CAN pay them so little.
One of the few areas in which New Hampshire was actually on the progressive side of worker’s rights was that the state, years ago, enacted a law that tied the state’s tipped minimum wage to a higher rate. It set the rate at 45 percent of the regular minimum wage, or $3.27 an hour. That’s not much, but at least it was a small step in the right direction. And it came via a GOP-led Legislature a decade ago, over the veto of Democratic Gov. John Lynch, who argued the state’s minimum should not be tied to the federal level at all.
Now, however, it would be an untenable step for GOP lawmakers and the governor if Congress were to increase the federal minimum wage to, say, the much-discussed $15 per hour. At 45 percent, New Hampshire’s tipped minimum would suddenly skyrocket to $6.75; still well below the current statewide minimum wage, but twice what tipped workers can be paid now.
So the Legislature passed a new law, removing the formula that offers tipped workers an advantage over the federal minimum. And last week, Sununu gladly signed it, thus protecting beleaguered restaurant and hotel owners from the radical, extreme idea of paying a living wage.
Let there be no doubt whose side this session’s legislative leaders and the governor are on. Elections do indeed have consequences. New Hampshire will be living with the consequences of the 2020 election for another year at least.
Then it will be up to those voters who can still afford to live in this state to determine the consequences of the GOP’s current war on workers.