Most people expect minimum wage to be just that – the least amount they will, and legally can be, paid to do their job. A new bill that’s currently being reviewed and considered among Washington lawmakers could threaten that minimum, a shocking and frustrating notion to many labor unions and workers across the state. Senate Bill 5275, sponsored by Senator Janea Holmquist Newbry of Moses Lake, would allow employers with less than 50 employees to pay new hires only 75% of minimum wage for a “training period”, not to exceed 680 hours. Newbry says that the bill would appeal to small-business owners, and encourage them to hire teens, who would greatly benefit from the work experience. Because teenagers have such a high turnover rate in the workforce, employers are hesitant to hire them. Senate Bill 5275 would provide these employers with some leeway. However, union representatives such as Stefan Moritz of Unite Here Local 8, a union that represents hotel and restaurant workers, said “Full-time workers in our industry are working hard every day to put food on the table and they barely stay above the poverty line.” Several others share his hesitance, worrying that the bill would simply give employers an excuse to pay their employees less and even put experienced workers’ jobs at risk, as employers could be tempted to fire them in pursuit of less-experienced workers who could be paid the training wage. Washington has the highest minimum wage in the country, $9.19 an hour, but is this a valid excuse for paying workers any less? The full state Senate could be next to decide.
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