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Summer wages may take a dive

Evan Pappas, Staff Reporter - March 6, 2013

New employees could be making 75 percent of minimum wage at new jobs if Senate Bill 5275 is approved, which means instead of making $9.19 an hour, new employees would make $6.89 an hour.

Sponsored by 13th District Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry, Senate Bill 5275 introduces a “training wage,” which would allow employers to pay new hires 75 percent of minimum wage for up to 680 hours.

The bill also comes with some protections.

This training wage can only be used by businesses with 50 employees or less, and only 10 percent of the workforce can be working for this lowered wage.

If an employee is let go before the training wage period is complete, the employer is no longer able to use that wage for one year.

“My number one top priority is private sector job creation,” Holmquist Newbry said.

According to Sen. Holmquist Newbry, the goal of this bill is to entice employers to hire young workers who might not have adequate work experience.

By lowering the cost of employment, businesses could take on new employees without as much investment.

It also provides opportunities for young workers to gain work experience, she said.

“I’m looking out for their best interests by giving employers additional tools so that once they leave school [they] would be able to find a job,” Newbry said. “We need to give incentives to employers to hire them.”

Patrick Connor, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, said employers have a tough time justifying hiring young workers.

He also said work experience is the most important factor in terms of getting hired, as it is not affordable for employers to hire someone with no work experience.

“As long as unemployment is as high as it is, young workers will have a difficult time being competitive for the limited number of jobs out there,” Connor said.

Washington State Labor Council President Jeff Johnson said there are multiple issues with this bill.

The first is the lack of age restrictions: the training wage could be applied to employees who are adults with work experience, further interfering with their ability to earn a living.

Another issue Johnson outlined is how lowering wages for young people to get through school is contradictory.

“It’s unnecessary and flies in the face of the fact that we have staggering unemployment rates and staggering inequality of income,” Johnson said.

Johnson says the Labor Council has lobbied against this bill and has its own series of bills that are job enhancing.

In the most recent State of the Union address, President Barack Obama addressed the issue of the minimum wage, stating he wants to bring up the federal minimum wage to $9 per hour.

If the president’s goal was to be achieved, the training wage bill could become an issue, as the $9 goal is incredibly close to the state’s own minimum wage of $9.19.

Feb. 22 was the cutoff date for the bill to be heard by committees, and on March 13, the Senate and House will take action.

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