Earning a little more than $9 an hour as a front-desk clerk at the Hilton Providence, Evan McLaughlin last year lost an apartment in Providence because he couldn’t afford the rent.
McLaughlin temporarily moved into a crowded house until he could get a second job as a room-service server making $6.50 an hour. Now able to afford an apartment with a single roommate, he supported the Providence City Council’s decision to ask city voters in November to approve a $15 minimum wage for city hotel workers.
Lawmakers, however, blocked that effort earlier this month, adding a provision in the proposed $8.7 billion fiscal 2015 state budget that Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee signed into law last week. The spending plan now prohibits cities and towns from setting a minimum wage that differs from the statewide minimum wage.
Currently $8 an hour, the statewide minimum wage is set to increase to $9 an hour, effective in January, through a separate bill Chafee also said he intends to sign.
The dispute last week led to a brief hunger strike by some hotel workers (McLaughlin is not among them, though he helped coordinate it), while Chafee and various lawmakers continue to assert that no city or town should be allowed to unilaterally raise the minimum wage either for a municipality as a whole or for a select group.
“I don’t understand why we would have to pick winners and losers,” said state Rep. Antonio Giarrusso, R-East Greenwich, referring to the idea of bumping up the minimum wage for a narrow sector like hotel workers. “What’s the next thing? ‘I work at a shipyard’? ‘I fix cars’? Where do you draw the line? Have a better job market and the wages will set themselves. It’s simple economics.”