Senate committee approves minimum wage reduction license

A dispatch from The Columbian’s Olympia intern, Lucas Wiseman:

Two senators who represent parts of Clark County voted on Monday to approve a bill that could lead to a 25 percent drop in wages for new entry-level workers.

Sens. John Braun, R-Centralia and Curtis King, R-Yakima, are both members of the Senate Commerce and Labor committee that heard the bill, and they both voted for the bill’s passage out of committee. The bill passed 4-3.

Senate Bill 5275 would allow businesses that receive a special certificate from the Department of Labor and Industries to pay their employees 75 percent of minimum wage, or pay their employees the federal minimum wage, whichever is greater.

Seventy-five percent of the state’s minimum wage would be $6.89 an hour, while federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

The reduced wage is described by the bill as a “training wage,” and is intended to allow businesses to hire more employees at a reduced wage. The state’s minimum wage is $9.19 an hour.

“The vast majority of the folks that are working for minimum wage are in the age bracket sixteen to twenty-four, this is aimed directly at that group,” Braun said. “We need to do this to improve their employment opportunities.”

King’s statements followed the same vein: “We are robbing our young people of the experience of working due to our high minimum wage,” he said. “Here’s an opportunity for businesses to employ these people.”

Braun represents the 20th Legislative District, which dips into parts of north Clark County. King represents the 14th District, which crosses into parts of east Clark County.

According to the bill, in order for the businesses to receive the wage-reduction certificate, they must have less than 50 employees, and training wage employees cannot make up more than 10 percent of their workforce.

Additionally, the bill states that businesses cannot pay the training wage for longer than 680 hours, and that if an employee being paid a training wage is fired, the business must provide an explanation for the dismissal to the state’s labor and industries department. The business then cannot hire another training wage employee for one year.

Six hundred and eighty hours is equivalent to 17 weeks of work, assuming a 40 hour work week.

According to the ranking member on the committee, Sen. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, the bill does not offer enough protection for workers.

“Frankly I fear that all we are doing with this bill is undermining the minimum wage in this state,” he said before the vote. “It’s done under the guise of creating more jobs for youth, but I don’t see anything in this bill about age at all.”

Conway added that the language of the bill could apply just as easily to a 40 year old, entry-level worker as to a teenager.

“This is not the way to go,” Conway said.

Another committee member, Bob Hasegawa, D-Renton, said that cutting minimum wage takes away from consumer’s purchasing power.

“People that are making the minimum wage are going to spend that money, and it goes right back to our economies,” Hasegawa said.

The bill now heads to the Senate Rules Committee.

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