March 06, 2006

MINIMUM WAGE UPDATE

West Virginia is one of several states where a campaign is in progress to raise the minimum wage. While in some states this is done through a ballot initiative, here the process is legislative. Below is an update for those following the state campaign and also may be useful for those elsewhere who may be able to avoid a snag that we have encountered.

MINIMUM WAGE BILL COULD BE IMPROVED TO COVER MORE WORKERS

House Bill 4023 passed the WV House of Delegates by a margin of 87-10. It would raise the state minimum wage in three steps to $7.25 by June 30, 2008. It has not moved in the state Senate, where it is triple-referenced. This is not a good sign and time is running out. However, one reason some people may oppose the bill is because it will not affect the mass of minimum wage workers due to definitions in the state code. This is a problem that can easily be fixed by amending a definition to the bill.

THE PROBLEM:

The West Virginia Code [21-5C-1(e)] excludes from the definition of “employer” “any individual, partnership, association, corporation, person or group of persons or similar unit if eighty percent of the persons employed by him are subject to any federal act related to minimum wage, maximum hours and overtime restrictions.” This means most businesses and therefore most workers would not be covered by the increase. While arguably any step in the direction of higher minimum wages is positive, we do have the option to amend the bill to cover more workers.

THE SOLUTION:

Federal law does not prohibit a state from requiring a higher minimum wage for all businesses. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) provides at USC sec. 218 (a) that “No provision of this chapter or of any order thereunder shall excuse noncompliance with and Federal or State law or municipal ordinance establishing a minimum wage higher than the minimum wage established under this chapter…”

In other words, states can set higher minimum wages. The only obstacle is the language in the W. Va. Code that limits coverage to those not covered by FLSA. Simply put, the senate could amend the bill to change the definition of employers and all workers would be covered, apart from any special exemptions the state may choose to make to protect very small or marginal businesses.

THE HIGH ROAD:

Already, 18 other states have raised their minimum wages with no harmful results. Maryland just passed a similar law which has not yet taken effect. Other states, including Ohio, Arizona, and Michigan have ballot measure campaigns to raise the minimum wage in the next election.

ACTION:

For West Virginians, share this information as widely and rapidly as possible. Call the state capitol switchboard toll free at 1-877-565-3447 and urge your senator to amend and pass H.B. 4023.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: DON'T ASK

No comments: