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A 'training wage' for legislators?

Democrats respond to a Republican plan to create a minimum wage exemption: You like it that much? Apply it to yourself.
Juanita Maestas

Juanita Maestas John Stang

Susan Thrasher of Puyallup

Susan Thrasher of Puyallup John Stang

If rookie employees get a reduced "training wage," then Washington's freshmen state legislators should receive the same.

Four Democrat state representatives made that argument Tuesday as they introduced a resolution that would limit a freshman legislator's salary for the first two years to 75 percent of the standard $42,000 a year. That translates to $31,500 annually. The same resolution also would dock a legislator's pay for every day that person is out sick.

This is a gesture in response to Moses Lake Republican Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry's bill to create a "training wage” of 75 percent of the state's minimum wage -- which would be $6.91 per hour compared to the current $9.19 per hour -- for the first 680 hours that an employee works. That wage would be limited to 10 percent of employers' workers. Republicans and Democrats are also clashing on whether sick leave pay should be mandatory in Washington.

"I'd love to see the Republican who introduced this bill ... Please work for one month in my shoes,” said Puyallup waitress Susan Thrasher at a press conference announcing the resolution.

The Democratic resolution's prime sponsor Rep. Mike Sells of Everett, chairman of the House's Labor and Workforce Committee, said, "It's a political move to make a specific point. ... This is what the Senate Republicans are recommending. What's good for the goose is good for the gander." Holmquist Newbry is chairwoman of the Senate's Commerce and Labor Committee.

While the House is unlikely to pass Holmquist Newbry's bill, Sells speculated that it could pop up when the philosophically incompatible Republican Senate and Democrat House finally have to make deals to get stalled bills through the opposite chambers.

"To me, it seems symbolic in nature," Holmquist Newbry said of Sells’ resolution.

Holmquist Newbry said her bill is intended to encourage employers to hire teenagers through the carrot of the proposed training wage. Her bill awaits a vote of the full Senate. But she intends to amend the bill to limit its scope to teen employees who are 19 or younger — the target demographic for her legislation.

Sells, his co-sponsors and the Seattle-based progressive organization FUSE brought out Thrasher and Juanita Maestas of Puyallup, who works at Plymouth Housing in Seattle, to talk about trying to live on minimum wage.

The Republican proposal is "just basically a way to lower the minimum wage." Maesta said.

"I feel passage of this bill will make things worse for me and people like me," said Thrasher, adding that a $42,000 annual salary seems like a fortune to her. "Forty-two thousand dollars to me? Aahhh. Really?" she said.

Thrasher and Maesta talked about not having enough money to pay all their bills at minimum wage, having no insurance, skipping on owning a car because of the expense. Thrasher said people are tipping less because of the weak economy, so tips won't bail her out.

Also supporting the resolution Tuesday as co-sponsors were Reps. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, and Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane. In an earlier hearing, opponents of Holmquist Newbry's bill argued that it would give employers an easy system to game by constantly cycling through workers making less than minimum wage.

John Stang is a longtime Inland Northwest newspaper reporter who earned a Masters of Communications in Digital Media degree at the University of Washington. He can be reached by writing editor@crosscut.com.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Mar 6, 9:33 a.m. Inappropriate

Blue light; do you ever have anything intelligent or positive to say. It is easy to hide behind a user name, but if bluelight is code for Cop, you are the reason we have and need the DOJ.

Posted Wed, Mar 6, 9:50 a.m. Inappropriate

Washington's "high" minimum wage has resulted in unemployment rates that are...the same as the national average. Lowering the wage will only help exploit the most needy working people. Comparing our minimum to a much lower one suggests that there may be a benefit in terms of resiliency. Data to back up these claims are reported at http://mojourner.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-minimum-wage-wager-looks-worth-it.html

Mojourner

Posted Wed, Mar 6, 10:22 a.m. Inappropriate

Mojourner, You are correct about its impact on unemployment. What Minimum Wage (and other "employer mandates" that impose inflexibility) do is make mechanization more feasible or make marginal products and services more so. We are also, according to the data, collected by the State's L & I Dept. talking about 3% of the payroll in Washington State.

As the Minimum Wage has risen, dough rollers in pizza parlors have faced new competition from automated machines. The machines aren't cheaper, but as labor rises, hourly labor costs becomes more expensive than the hourly payments and maintenance on the machine. That is a small example, and by itself, not a significant adverse impact accross the labor market. It is when you aggregate things like the Minimum Wage, with healthcare requirements, the inability to lay-off workers short of bankruptcy, etc. We tend to look at these things in isolation rather than the totality and layer them on top of each other over time. Each, on its individual merits makes sense.

Now flash forward to Europe (and France in particular) and the youth unemployment rate is out of site. There are few low-skill, entry-level jobs for people to learn the basics of showing up on time, basic safety, working with other employees and customers, etc. At all wage levels, employer's don't expand payrolls, unless they can't find a machine or automated process, because you can't lay employees off if revenue takes a dive or the industry moves in a new direction, short of bankruptcy. High job security for existing workers, means they are reluctant to add new ones. That is the other extreme.

The Holmquist Newbry Legislation is a solution in search of a problem. The limited hearing and staff time the Legislature is spending on this, while we don't move the graduation rate off 75% (50% for blacks), get students reading at grade level, going to post-secondary education, etc. is a pox on both Depublicans and Remocrats in our Legislature.

Posted Wed, Mar 6, 10:47 a.m. Inappropriate

I'm sure there are a lot of high school kids who'd love to spend a few months as a legislator for $31,500. They'd probably do a better job than most of the establishment types currently there.


As far as the testimony of the two women cited in the article goes, I took the liberty of doing a web search and discovered that Plymouth Housing Group is a charity that caters to the homeless. That's not a very lucrative client base. If Ms. Maestas wants to earn more than minimum wage, she might consider looking for employment at a property management firm that caters to a more affluent clientele. That's the type of move that most people make to advance their careers. As for the situation of Ms.Thrasher, the US is unlike Europe in that the vast majority of a waiter or waitresses' income comes in the form of tips. And if those tips are in the form of cash, they can be tax-free income for those who wish to game the system a little. If she works for an establishment that doesn't allow tipping, or which caters to a stingy segment of the population, she's probably performing under her ability. None of this is meant to imply any animosity towards these women. The courses of people's lives all take different turns and many of those aren't the result of a plan. It's just that an emotional response to an issue is one thing. A dispassionate examination of it is another. To equate a measure aimed at getting more youth into starting positions in the workforce with a punishment of more skilled labor is just a little silly.

dbreneman

Posted Wed, Mar 6, 11:06 a.m. Inappropriate

Sure, it's easy to suggest someone get another job at an upscale establishment, but perhaps Ms. Maestas is restricted by the location of her own abode or other familial obligations.
Also, Ms. Thrasher mentions her tips have subsided with the downturn in the economy, which does not seem to be an indicator of her waiting abilities.

My biggest issue with the proposed bill is the shear length of the training session. 680 hours is over six months for someone working 20 hours per week. Certainly at most of these jobs, an employee is adequately trained after two weeks or so.

jeffro

Posted Wed, Mar 6, 11:13 a.m. Inappropriate

dbreneman: Even by your standards this is a silly comment. You're blaming Ms. Maestas for working for a charity organization? If Ms. Maestas went to work for WalMart -- hugely profitable by any standards and whose family members are billionaires -- she'd still be making minimum wage. Only now her work would only be lining the pockets of Wall Street investors and the Waltons -- rather than helping the downtrodden.

Want to try again?

bigyaz

Posted Wed, Mar 6, 12:18 p.m. Inappropriate

I get where Dbreneman is coming from in broad outline. Why is Ms. Maestas "entitled" to a certain wage, in a certain location, regardless of the economy. She has taken the iniative to get a job and work and that is good. But if that work doesn't pay enough (because that those that consume the goods and services of Plymouth Housing - or to use your other example Wal-Mart - can't pay enough for those goods and services for Ms. Maestas to be well compensated) she should take even more iniative to switch to a field where the customers pay enough to compensate her for that iniative. She is income eligible for a Pell Grant at the community college and could gain a skill set that retails for more in the labor market. Why is Ms. Maestas, or anyone else, pre-determined to do a job that pays poorly, because the consumers of the goods and services she produces, can't, or choose not to, pay more for them? If all the jobs in her geopraphic local pay poorly, why not relocate (e.g. Latin American imigrants, the Irish in the wake of the potato famine). She (and all of us) don't just need a work ethic, but the smarts to develop skills that are in demand with people who can afford to buy them at a price point that can get her adequately paid. Some jobs, becasue of the finite amount free-market consumers are willing to pay are always going to be "entry-level" and "stop-overs" on the way to somewhere else.

Posted Wed, Mar 6, 3:31 p.m. Inappropriate

"Holmquist Newbry said her bill is intended to encourage employers to hire teenagers through the carrot of the proposed training wage."

Then why isn't her legislation limited to teenaged employees?

And why doesn't the legislation actually require any 'training' to be provided during the training-wage period?

This is just a gimmick to allow businesses to exploit vulnerable workers into sub-minimum wage jobs.

Posted Fri, Mar 8, 11:35 p.m. Inappropriate

Perhaps being exploited into sub-minimum wages will give some job seekers some experience that they currently are not getting.

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