Culver’s co-founder and chief executive officer Craig Culver is making headlines around the state with his proposal to raise the nation's minimum wage.

Last week, Culver told Wisconsin Public Radio he supported a “two-tiered approach” to raising the minimum wage by establishing a minimum wage for teenage workers and a higher base wage for adults.

“This protest group has been going around America with the $15 an hour idea, but $10 an hour is realistic,” Culver said in a phone interview Feb. 24. “I don’t think it’s realistic to raise the youth wage as well from $7.25 to $10.10.

Culver proposes raising the minimum wage for workers between 14 and 17 years old to $8 per hour, while bringing workers 18 and over to $10.10.

Culver’s restaurants already are implementing a similar approach with a three-tiered pay schedule.

“For 14 and 15-year olds we do have them at whatever the mandated minimum wage, depending on what state they’re in,” Culver said. “The 16 and 17-year-olds are a dollar higher, and we have an adult wage as well around $10 an hour.”

Culver said his proposal is nothing new.

“This has been something I’ve felt was a good idea for many, many years,” Culver said. “But it’s never flown.”

Ten years ago, former Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle recognized Culver’s dedication to increasing the minimum wage for employees with the Exemplary Employer Award on May 20, 2004.

Culver also supported Doyle’s minimum wage increase at that time.

Next month, Culver’s will mark a milestone by opening its 500th restaurant. The company now has franchises in 21 states.

Sauk Prairie Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Tywana German said the chamber’s leadership has yet to establish any position about increasing the minimum wage.

“It is hard for a working adult who has a family to provide for their family and to do so at the current minimum wage,” German said. “Perhaps that’s an area we need to look at locally and with legislative representatives to make an impact.”

However, German said most of the chamber’s membership is made up of small businesses.

“A large percentage of our members are small business owners and that impacts them directly and the quality of the worker they’re able to find,” she said. “If our member businesses take it on as an action item and they wanted our assistance in formulating a position statement, we would be willing to work with them on it.”

The minimum wage debate has heated up in the wake of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Speech last month and the signing of an Executive Order that raises the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour for workers employed by federal contractors.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, more than 30 states are set to consider legislation or ballot measures to raise the minimum wage in the coming months.

Earlier this month, Gov. Scott Walker repeated his opposition to raising the legal minimum wage, saying that creation of higher-paying jobs was a better solution to low-paying jobs.

Results of a recent survey conducted by Marquette University showed 62 percent of Wisconsin residents surveyed favored raising the minimum wage.

The same poll also showed Walker leading his opponent Mary Burke, who favors raising the minimum wage, by 47 percent to 41 percent.

According to the Department of Workforce Development, the first minimum wage law was enacted in Wisconsin in 1912. The state law has changed many times since then, with the most recent increase coming in 2009 to $7.25.

Like Wisconsin, minimum wages in Iowa and Minnesota are at the federal minimum of $7.25. The minimum wage in Illinois is at $8.25.

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Contact Kim Lamoreaux at klamoreaux@capitalnewspapers.com or call 608-393-5777

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