Lower minimum wage proposed for youth

Some workers would be paid less than Nebraska’s current $8.00 per hour minimum wage under a bill heard by the Business and Labor Committee Feb. 2.

Last November, Nebraska voters approved Initiative 425, which raised the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.00 per hour for 2015. The ballot initiative was the result of a successful petition drive that followed the 2014 Legislature’s rejection of a bill to increase the wage. Nebraska’s minimum wage will increase to $9.00 per hour in 2016.

LB599, introduced this session by Crete Sen. Laura Ebke, would allow employers to pay $7.25 an hour for workers age 18 and younger. Workers would receive the rate for only 25 percent of the hours worked.

The bill would apply only to workers enrolled in public or private schools and would not include employees participating in vocational training programs.

Ebke said LB599 would protect struggling businesses, especially grocers in small communities, by allowing them to reduce labor costs. Younger workers require more training and can work only when not in school, she said.

Dick Clark, director of research for the Platte Institute, testified in favor of the bill. Capping the amount paid to younger workers would mitigate the negative effects of Nebraska’s recently increased minimum wage, Clark said, because high minimum wages can discourage some younger workers from finishing high school or trade school.

Kathy Siefken, executive director of the Nebraska Grocery Industry Association, also spoke in favor of the bill. She said it is hard for small town grocers to justify the current minimum wage for entry-level positions because of the amount of time needed to train employees. Money for those wages come directly from store owners’ pockets, she said, and those stores are critical to the survival of some small communities.

“We have retailers just barely hanging on,” she said. “This bill allows us to continue to keep hiring those kids.”

Jason Hayes of the Nebraska State Education Association testified in opposition to the bill. He said the proposal sends the wrong message to students because it would tell them that they can earn a higher wage if they drop out of school.

Rodney Vlcek, president of the Nebraska AFL-CIO, also spoke in opposition to the bill. He said it would create a separate, second-class of worker that retailers would prefer to older workers.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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