North Idaho

Group pushing to raise Idaho's minimum wage

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho - Idaho minimum wage increase

A group in North Idaho is pushing to raise the state's minimum wage from $7.25 to as much as $9.25 in the next four years.

In Washington minimum wage is $9.19. Step across the border into Idaho and that amount drops to $7.25. Supporters of an increase say it's not just about dollars and cents it's about equality.

Cafe Rio in Coeur d'Alene is always busy the day after Monday. Taco Tuesdays means there are thousands of tortillas to roll and non-stop prep for burritos, tacos and salads.

"We are squeezing 10,000 limes a day and it shows. I mean they work very, very hard," General manager Katie Jimenez said.

When the store opened she paid new employees minimum wage $7.25 but soon found Washington wages kept luring them away.

"We started losing really good employees 'cause they can drive 20 to 30 minutes and they are getting $2 more than I could give them," she explained.

Now a group in North Idaho is trying to stop that.

"I strongly believe that this is a religious, an educational and a community issue," Anne Nesse, minimum wage increase supporter, said.

Nesse, who is also a candidate for state representative, said a higher minimum wage would encourage more people to get back into the job market.

"You don't want people committing crimes or working off the books you want people working in the system," Nesse said.

If Nesse collects the 55,000 signatures needed the bill could make it's way to the ballot in 2014 and if passed it would raise minimum wage in Idaho to $8.10 the first year with a gradual increase to $9.80 by 2017. A potential cost of living increase in 2018 could put minimum wage above $10.

"It's a Catch-22 really because when you start putting more people on at a higher wage you get better workers but your labor goes up and in turn your menu prices have to go up," Jimenez said.

But a possible vote is still a ways off as their biggest hurdle right now is getting it on the ballot. Until then Jimenez will continue to pay new staff above minimum wage.

"You pay a rookie pay, you're going to get rookie workers," she said. "Really good workers cost more, plain and simple."