(Sept. 14) SALINAS, Calif. — California was probably already the costliest state in the country to do business and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s signing of the minimum wage bill Sept. 12 added another cost for growers, said Tim Chelling, vice president of communications for Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers.

Chelling said the WGA board of directors had taken a neutral position on the bill, which will increase the minimum wage to $8 per hour, because “an increase was inevitable.”

The increase is expected to raise wages for 1.4 million of the state’s lowest paid workers by $1.25 over the next 15 months. They will receive a 75 cent per hour raise Jan. 1, and another 50 cent per hour increase is planned in January of 2008.

Massachusetts is the only other state that will have an $8 minimum wage, also taking effect in 2008.

Even though many agriculture workers in California can make $9.50 to $10 per hour on piecework, the minimum wage increase puts upward pressure for increases throughout the industry, Chelling said.

“You have to deal in the real world and minimum wage increases are part of that world,” he said. “What you don’t want to do is make minimum wage increases a business killer.”

California’s minimum wage is now the eighth-highest in the nation at $6.75, and by 2008, it and Massachusetts will have the highest minimum wage. It is the first increase since 2002, when Gov. Gray Davis’ administration approved an 8% increase.