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In the fight for $15 minimum wage, this small Kihei business says yes

Viewpoint

It is often said that small businesses cannot afford another hike in the minimum wage. My husband, who is my business partner, and I could not disagree more. Not because we are pious but because we are pragmatic. Small businesses benefit from paying their employees. Here’s how.

We bought Kihei Ice Inc. 18 years ago. We began paying our employees, the people who help our business grow and succeed, a $15 minimum wage in October of 2015. The result? Our employees are happy, positive contributors. We went from a high turnover employer issuing 42 W-2s every year to a business with a high employee retention rate.

Did taking our entry-level employees from $10/hour to $15/hour reduce the amount of money that goes into our own retirement? Sure. But was it worth it? Absolutely.

As a small-business owner, we don’t have the benefit of pensions, so our self-funded retirement is paramount to our future. But there is a balance. Today we are still able to contribute to our 401(k), and we have created a corporate climate that feels more like ohana. We like thinking we are living out our kuleana, not profiting from a predatory boss-worker model of doing business. We have proven that raising the minimum wage so that our employees have a better sense of financial security works.

Kihei Ice is a small business of 15 employees doing business in arguably a most difficult economic climate. If we can do it, McDonalds — and other businesses — can do it. I make the argument that our business is better off for it.

Small businesses fear the cost of increased regulation. Here’s where our state government and the insurance commission could do a lot to help small businesses pay higher wages. Onerous and unreasonable workers’ compensation costs are one of the biggest obstacles to paying employees more. Small businesses need more choices in insurance carriers. 

(And medical professionals should not be able to pick and choose whether they take a case. The medical establishment and the insurance carriers rake it in while small employers and employees get played by the system.) It’s time to reform the issues that make paying higher wages out of reach for small companies. It can be done. Legislators just need the will to find the way.

* Tina Wildberger is the owner of Kihei Ice Inc.

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