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State minimum wage increase takes effect

| January 2, 2007 11:00 PM

By GWEN ALBERS Western News Reporter

Starting pay for the 26 part- and full-time workers at Libby's Pamida has traditionally been above minimum wage.

That changed Monday when the rate increased across Montana for the first time in 10 years from $5.15 to $6.15 an hour; the new minimum wage is now the new starting pay at the discount deparment store on Highway 2 West.

"We just had to do a little revamping, some moving around," said Pamida manager Marion Craig. "It's been a long time coming. I think it's a good thing."

Kira Basham, who works part-time at Shoestring Video and Hava Java, says the increase is awesome.

"We work hard here and I think we're worth it," said Basham, who also co-owns Shari Basham Day Care in Libby.

The state's voters in November by a 2-1 margin supported the $1-an-hour hike, which is being challenged in the court system. It also requires annual cost-of-living increases.

At Rosauers Food & Drug in Libby, about 15 employees received raises on Jan. 1, said manager Scott Erickson.

"They're mainly high school kids and some are a little older who work during the day," Erickson said.

He doesn't expect increases to hurt the store.

"That's a small percentage of our employees, and as far as I'm concerned, they deserve it," Erickson said.

Sandi Visger, owner of Shoestring Video and Hava Java, passed on raises to all of her nine employees.

"Everyone will get an even dollar at the first of the year," Visger said. "Most of them make more than minimum wage; we only have a few that don't. We will still try to keep everything the same and won't pass (the expense) onto our customers."

At Zip-In, owner Stacey Gilliam had to increase the minimum wage for one employee - a part-time high school student.

"She's well worth it," Gilliam said. "We finally have a really good crew and you want to hold onto them."

Her other three employees are paid more than $7 an hour. They will not receive raises.

"I can't afford to do anything much more, especially during the winter," Gilliam said.

The most controversial part of the increase is the annual cost-of-living adjustments. The Department of Labor will monitor the federal Consumer Price Index for the 12 months ending each Aug. 31, calculate the adjustment by Sept. 30 of each year rounded to the nearest five cents, and put the new increase into place Jan. 1 of the following year.

The Montana Supreme Court has yet to rule on a legal challenge from a group upset that other initiatives it had favored were thrown off the November ballot. But the state attorney general has said the lawsuit challenging the minimum wage is no longer valid because voters already approved the measure.