Senator Holmquist Newbry, Senator Baumgartner, Senator Parlette, Senator Braun
  • Senator Holmquist Newbry, Senator Baumgartner, Senator Parlette, Senator Braun

While the rest of us are fighting to increase the minimum wage, this crew is fighting to extend sub-minimum wage to all teenagers in Washington, making it easier for businesses to pay 85% of the current minimum wage to teen employees.

Washington currently pays teen workers aged 16-17 the same minimum wage as adults ($9.32/hour), with minors under age 16 getting paid 85% of minimum wage ($7.92). Senate Bill 6471 looks to pay teen workers ages 14-19 the sub-minimum rate for summer employment, and Senate Bill 6495 would seek to extend the sub-minimum rate to all employees ages 14-19 who are training for new jobs. The only problem is that neither bill includes restrictions, requirements, or established parameters around what constitutes a training period, or how many times someone could be hired into a job as a trainee. Under these bills, if you’re a teenager in Washington state, you could effectively be paid less than minimum wage until you turn 20 years old.

Proponents of the bills say that lower wages for teens would be an incentive to make employees more affordable and attractive to employers. Carolyn Logue from Washington Food industries Association supports both bills, saying that small, independent businesses are happy to bring in teenagers and teach them “soft skills” like showing up to work and respecting people. Is that something you can only learn if you’re paid less than minimum wage? Or is this a chance for business owners to pocket more money at the expense of vulnerable employees? One proponent, Judy Coovert of Printcom, even went so far as to compare earning full minimum wage to promoting a sense of entitlement, saying that kids today feel “I exist, therefore I am worth X amount of money.” Wow, Judy—way to put kids in their place by making them feel like they are not worthy of being treated like full members of society until they suffer a little bit.

Opponents to the bills say that there is no significant impact on employment from having higher minimum wages, and an increased minimum wage results in less turnover. Diego Rondón Ichikawa of the National Employment Law Project (NELP) points out that these bills are basically blaming teens for the problem of unemployment, and that both bills would benefit big retail chains with high turnover staffing models, subsidize an industry already seeing record profits, create incentives for employers to shift to high turnover staffing, and displace adult workers. As Teresa Moscato of the Washington State Labor Council argued, “Racing to the bottom of a wage ladder is not a proven strategy to create jobs.”

There’s an executive session scheduled for 8am tomorrow in the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor, and I’ll stick with this story to bring you more details. In the meantime, you can watch the Senate try to rip money out of the hands of Washington’s teens in the video below (discussions of these bills start at 41 minutes):