With her state and local colleagues pushing to raise wages, one Washington state lawmaker is swimming upstream. State Rep. Liz Pike (R) has proposed gutting minimum wage laws by allowing employers to ignore them for more than four months of a new employee’s tenure.
The Republican says her idea allows businesses to pay a “training wage” for unskilled workers who would otherwise not be worth hiring and that it is therefore “a job creator for young people,” according to The Columbian. Pike’s bill, which allows employers to pay new workers less than minimum wage for up to 680 hours, does not restrict the wage law loophole to young workers, however.
The “training wage” bill got a committee hearing in the Washington House on Tuesday, giving worker representatives a chance to explain their opposition to the idea. “This is not a training period. This is simply a low-wage period,” said Washington State Labor Council Government Affairs Director Teresa Mosqueda. The 680-hour window in Pike’s law amounts to 17 weeks of working 40 hours each week — about four months of full-time work, and potentially far longer for part-time hires. After paying sub-minimum wages to new workers for four months or more, employers would be under no obligation to keep them on the payroll at higher pay rates, giving businesses incentive to simply let people go and pick up a new “trainee” for the next four months.
Pike’s fellow lawmakers in Washington are looking to raise wages rather then cut them. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray (D) wants a $15 minimum hourly wage in the state’s biggest city, and Gov. Jay Inslee (D) wants to raise the wage floor statewide to at least $10.82 and perhaps as much as $11.82 per hour. Similar efforts are underway in dozens of states nationwide. Combined with worker protests, state efforts are scaling up the pressure for a federal wage hike as well.
Despite all that momentum, Pike isn’t the only state-level politician looking to take the teeth out of minimum wage laws. Republican Illinois gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner had called for cutting Illinois’ minimum wage in speeches until heavy criticism led him to reverse course. The Pike and Rauner mentality shows up nationally as well. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) wants an outright repeal of the federal minimum wage. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) agrees, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) seems to sympathize with the criticism without endorsing the repeal call.
There are many other public policy ideas to help usher under-skilled would-be workers into jobs that do not gut minimum wage laws like Pike’s idea would. Congress could restore job training funds it has cut in recent years, for one. Another, broader policy to promote the underused apprenticeship system would provide young people with similar levels of lifetime earnings growth to what a college degree offers without any of the associated debt.