Bill divides Forsyth lawmakers

Ed Hanes

Bill divides Forsyth lawmakers
March 16
05:20 2017



Forsyth legislative representatives are split on a bill that, if passed, would “increase the state’s minimum wage in phases” over a five-year period, “when the wage shall be adjusted automatically each year by increases in the cost of living.”

“More than anything this legislation is the right thing to do for struggling families,  workers and their employers in this state, “ says state Rep. Evelyn Terry (D-72).

Known as HB 289 (and in the Senate as SB 210) – “Living Wage by 2022” – the measure was referred to the House Committee on Rules, Calendar and Operations on March 9. The bill is supported by North Carolina Sen. Paul Lowe, Rep. Evelyn Terry and Rep. Ed Hanes Jr., all Democrats.

A “living wage” is “the amount of income needed for an individual to meet basic needs without public or private assistance, says the Durham Living Wage Project, a living wage certification group. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders favored an immediate $15-per-hour minimum living wage last year.

Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have raised their minimum wages since 2009, with New York raising it to $15-per-hour, followed by California.

State House Democrats have also introduced another measure titled “The Economic Security Act of 2017,” which also raises the minimum wage over a five-year period, but includes provisions addressing equal pay for women, a repeal on the state ban against collective bargaining, paid leave, a return of the earned income tax credit, and a ban on government agencies requiring job applicants to detail their criminal histories until they receive a “conditional offer of employment.”

Dead on arrival?

HB 2, the controversial Republican-sponsored “bathroom law,” also does not allow municipalities in North Carolina to raise their local minimum wage rates. Indeed, the GOP majority in the state House is expected to reject any consideration of raising the minimum wage.

Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the N.C. Republican Party, recently said in reaction to the new proposals, “This is why our side is in charge –to stop this stuff the voters long ago rejected.”

And yet, according to Politifact, anywhere from 65 percent to 76 percent of North Carolinians favor raising the minimum wage to a living wage. The state NAACP says that number is closer to 80 percent.

According to language in the HB 289, North Carolina employers would pay their employees a minimum of $8.80 per hour (the current federal mini-mum rate is $7.25 per hour), “or the minimum wage set forth” in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act , 29 U.S.C. 206(a)(1), whichever is higher as of Jan. 1, 2018.

“…[I]t is based on a graduated scale that begins January 2018 at a minimum wage hourly rate of $8.80 and moves over a period of years to January 1, 2022 to $15 per hour based on sound economic indexed projections adjusted by the CPI,” Rep. Terry said.  “Reasonable assumptions are also factored into this law based on conditions often needing consideration by the disadvantaged – lay offs, temporary loss of wages requiring the need to file for unemployment; work first adjustments, workers whose wages depend on tips, etc.”

Bill provides hope

Rep. Ed Hanes (D-Forsyth-72) says the bill provides hope for struggling workers.

“The larger problem that people won’t acknowledge is that we have workers forced into jobs that should, in fact, be jobs that teach young people how to work,” Hanes said. “Instead they are being filled by adults who are being taken advantage of in middle-skilled jobs where wages have stagnated while profits for owners and executives have risen.”

“Our society creeps closer and closer into the land of no return: raw capitalism.  As our politics have become more stratified, our willingness to blame workers and excuse owners has also intensified,” Rep. Hanes continued. State Sen. Joyce Krawiec (R-Forsyth), like most Republicans, dis-agrees, saying that mini-mum wage increases, according to “most economists” hurt more than they help.

“We need look no further than Seattle to see the harmful effects of raising the minimum wage,” Sen. Krawiec maintained, referring to at least one study that suggested Seattle employers either laid off workers, or cut their hours when the council raised the minimum wage there to $11 an hour in June 2014. However, the Seattle council still voted to raise the rate to $15-per-hour by 2022.

“Many people who had jobs are now unemployed or had significant cuts to their hours, according to a study done by the city,” Krawiec said. “When the price of the service costs more than the service is worth, those services don’t survive.”

“Low wage jobs are a starting point,” the Republican senator continued. “A place to be trained for the future. In fact, 42 percent are high school age and another 27 percent are college age. These ‘training ground’ jobs will be lost when government requires businesses to pay more for labor than the market demands. …“

“While we would all like to see everyone make top wages, eliminating jobs is not the way to achieve these results,” Sen. Krawiec concluded.

Rep. Hanes, however, maintains that workers deserve fair wages.

“The senator’s approach is far too simplistic and a standard Republican talking point. Unfortunately for her, conservative adult workers disagree with her.  Kids need to learn how to work. Adults need to make a fair living wage that tracks inflation.  Perhaps we should create a tiered wage system for those 21 and under, versus working adults over 21?  There are a ton of approaches … it’s time we stop fighting about it and start working for adults who need relief.”

Businesses benefit, some say

Indeed, there are economists who suggest that increasing the minimum wage helps employers more than it hurts because when workers decide they can no longer afford to toil for minuscule wages, they leave, creating a high turnover for that business, studies show. That high turnover forces businesses to constantly train new workers, which ultimately cost more money than pay-ing experienced employees more to stay on the job.

There are also proponents who point to major corporations like Target and Walmart, who began paying their employees more than the minimum wage at least two years ago. And in 2015, 11 businesses and two nonprofits joined the Durham Living Wage Project  – a certification program that promoted paying workers at least $12.33 an hour. Both Asheville and Orange County have similar groups.

While the raise hiked labor costs at those businesses, employees were pleased that they were able to feed their families, and were not likely to leave.

“I strongly suggest that people determine for them-selves what’s fair,” Rep. Terry says,  “and moreover show by the way they vote in all local elections how they truly value legislation that strives to lift not trap people into a spiral of economic depravity while others thrive.”

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Cash Michaels

Cash Michaels

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