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A ‘training wage’ for legislators?

Susan Thrasher of Puyallup Credit: 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.

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