Teen wage bills to get new examination

A hearing next week will look at whether lower summer or training wages might benefit teens and employers.
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Sen. Michael Baumgartner

A hearing next week will look at whether lower summer or training wages might benefit teens and employers.

The public will get to have its say Wednesday on two bills to allow teens to be paid slightly less than the minimum wage for summer jobs and for training.

The Washington Senate Commerce & Labor Committee will receive testimony at 1:30 p.m. in Olympia on the bills introduced by committee chair Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane. Versions of these two bills were alive in the Senate in 2013 and 2014, but never made it to a full floor vote.

On Friday, Baumgartner said his legislation is prompted by difficulties that teens face in finding work. While he indicated that he believes teen wage legislation has a better chance this year, he declined to elaborate on his thinking. But he said he would have more to say in the upcoming week.

There is a possibility of two Senate Republican teen wage bills heading to a hostile House, while House Democrats' minimum-wage increase and mandatory sick leave bills could be floating over to an unfriendly Senate at the same time.

Baumgartner's summer wage bill would allow employers to pay employees ages 14 through 19 the federal minimum wage, instead of Washington's higher state minimum wages, from June 1 through Aug. 31. Currently, Washington's minimum wage is $9.47 an hour. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

Former Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry, R-Moses Lake, had sponsored a bill in play in 2013 and 2104 to allow employers to pay teens a training wage of 85 percent of the state's minimum wage for their first 680 hours on the job. Holmquist Newrby left the Washington Senate in 2014 to make an unsuccessful run for Congress.

Baumgartner resurrected her bill for teens ages 16 to 19 with the same 85 percent of the state wage or paying them the federal minimum wage, whichever is higher.  But his version of the bill does not say how long a training wage period would be. It limits any employer to paying a teen wage to a maximum of 10 percent of workers. 

Last Monday in the House Labor Committee, Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, tried to attach an amendment calling for a lower teen wage to a bill by Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle, that calls for increasing the state's minimum wage from $9.47 an hour to $12 an hour by 2019. The Democratic-controlled committee rejected Manweller's amendment by a party line 4-to-3 vote. Then the committee recommended approval of Farrell's bill by a 4-3 party-line vote, signaling the probability of more clashes between the GOP and Democrats as the measure advances in the House.

Last year, testimony on the two teen wage bills showed a solid split, reflecting the partisan divide. Supporters pointed to high teen unemployment and businesses struggling to meet payrolls as reasons to try the idea. Opponents argued that no link has been proven between lower teen minimum wages and overall economic benefits, plus the bills would penalize people for being young.


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at johnstang_8@hotmail.com and on Twitter at @johnstang_8