Back in June I reported on legislation – Senate Bill 250 which would cut the minimum wage for 18 and 19 year olds to 85% of the level for everyone else. In defending it, the sponsor, Margaret O’Brien, claimed that it was necessary because “Most of the employers I’ve talked to in my community do not have a youth training wage but they feel having a youth minimum wage will resolve their issues.” The fact is that Michigan DOES have a youth minimum wage. It applies to young people under the age of 18. And, if you’re under 20, employers can pay you 85% of the minimum wage for the first 90 days of employment which is considered a training period.
Apparently they haven’t squeezed young workers enough so now they are trying to extend just a bit further to include 18 and 19-year olds, as well. The argument that is most often used is that employers aren’t likely to hire young people so this will encourage them to do so so that the young people can gain essential employment experience. However, 18 and 19 years olds, who are old enough to serve their country in combat, sign contracts, and vote, often live on their own (not with their parents, in other words) and many have families to support, as well. Slashing their pay by 15% will only make their difficult situations that much more difficult. This bill would literally sign wage discrimination into law.
For students, it is, simply put, piling on. Students already face skyrocketing tuition, rising textbook and other costs, and increased rent. If the law passes, they will have even less money available in the face of these added fiscal challenges. 85% of a minimum wage that isn’t a living wage puts them into an even deeper financial hole. (Not so) fun fact: For those working full-time, it’s a $2,542 per year pay cut.
This legislation is nothing more than a sloppy wet kiss to corporations. Why pay someone 20 or older the full amount when you can hire a young person at 85% the cost? And for those who are trying to support themselves on these substandard wages, it means more costs to the taxpayers who will pay for their reliance on government assistance. It’s the corporatists’ dream come true: taxpayers subsidizing their payroll.
Nobody, no matter what their age, should be paid less than a living wage.
I spoke with Democratic Senator Rebekah Warren and she adamantly opposes the legislation. “Senate Bill 250 assumes that our teenagers should be happy to work for less because they are simply earning a little extra pocket money to pay for pizza and trips to the movies,” she told me. “In reality, many high schoolers throughout this state are working in order to help support their families and save for sky-rocketing college costs. I believe this is just another example of how out of touch some of my colleagues are with so many in Michigan who continue to struggle to make ends meet, and another attempt to put big business profits before working people.”
I also spoke with Democratic Senator Steve Bieda who sits on the Senate Economic Development and International Investment Committee. He said that Republicans spent the last days of session before their Thanksgiving break “going after labor and voting rights, so this bill simply goose-steps in the ALEC direction of undercutting working people and eviscerating the American middle class.”
S.B. 250 was reported out of the Senate Commerce Committee last summer with the recommendation for “immediate effect”. It now goes before the full Senate and, from what I am hearing, it may come up before the end of the year. Gotta keep those corporate benefactors happy, after all. Republicans need to keep them happy so that they’ll give big before the end of the year and they have just nine days left to work in 2015.
Be sure to contact your Senator and urge them to vote NO on S.B. 250 today!