Bumping Nevada minimum wage to $9 per hour called a good start, but just a start

A Republican-led proposal to raise Nevada’s minimum wage to $9 is a good start on a bipartisan deal to boost workers’ paychecks, a key Democrat said Tuesday, though he’s pushing to double the wage to $15 per hour.

Nevadans often have to work two low-wage jobs to make ends meet, said state Sen. Patricia Farley, R-Las Vegas, who is behind the un­expected Republican push to increase the minimum wage to lift more Nevadans out of poverty.

“Business owners pay either way, in the taxes for welfare services or you can pay someone who shows up to work,” she said in describing her pitch to the business community on behalf of her proposal. “I would rather pay someone to show up for work.”

A $9 per hour minimum wage would mean $130 more per month for the majority of low-wage workers, she calculates.

The minimum wage is $7.25 for workers who are offered health care coverage and $8.25 for those without workplace policies. The wage rules don’t apply to union members with collective bargaining agreements.

State Sen. Tick Seger­blom, D-Las Vegas, who has introduced a bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, said it’s a positive sign that some Republicans in the GOP-led Legislature appear ready to raise the basic wage. Republicans often argue a minimum isn’t needed, that competition for workers will result in adequate paychecks and that low-wage jobs usually are entry-level positions requiring little training.

“The fact they were willing to raise the minimum wage shows they recognize the current minimum wage is so unworkable,” Segerblom said. “It’s so meaningless. Just the fact that they acknowledge this is a positive sign.”

Segerblom added, however, that “the devil is in the details” and he opposes the legislative vehicle the GOP has chosen to carry the minimum wage hike — a measure to change overtime rules.

Segerblom’s SJR 8 would amend the Nevada Constitution, which since 2006 has set the state minimum wage at $1 higher than the federal minimum wage. Changing the Constitution takes time, however, and SJR8 would have to be approved twice by the Legislature before going to voters in 2018.

Farley’s proposal would immediately change state law. It was added Friday as an amendment to SB193 during a Senate Commerce, Labor and Energy Committee meeting. The bill would change Nevada’s overtime law to allow part-time workers to put in more hours during a 24-hour period, but they wouldn’t get paid time-and-a-half until they hit at least 40 hours during the week.

Nevada law now makes it difficult for workers to take on two shifts within a 24-hour period. For example, a food server who works a 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. dinner shift followed by a 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. lunch shift the next day must be paid overtime for noon to 4 p.m., or more than 8 hours in 24 hours, Farley noted. Nevada is the only state with that reset period, she said.

Farley’s amendment passed 5-2, largely along party lines. Committee Chairman James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, Farley, Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, and Sen. Becky Harris, R-Las Vegas, all voted for the amendment. Sen. Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas, also voted “yes.” The “no” votes were cast by Sens. Pat Spearman of North Las Vegas and Kelvin Atkinson of Las Vegas, both Democrats.

Farley arrived at the $9 figure, in part, by looking at minimum wages in other Western states, including California ($9), Oregon ($9.10), and Washington ($9.32). Minimum wages in expensive cities such as San Francisco and Seattle have hit $15 per hour. The federal minimum wage is $7.25.

Although Democrats were surprised by the minimum wage amendment, Farley said she had vetted the idea with Settelmeyer, other members of the GOP Senate caucus and business leaders. She also checked to see if the measure would get support in the Assembly, where the GOP caucus has a conservative contingent that’s hard to gauge.

“Senator Settelmeyer worked this issue as well, both with our caucus and the business community,” Farley said, adding his goal is to get “the right things done. … It’s not just a ‘me’ effort. I am lucky to be working with Settelmeyer on this.”

Farley said she’s fairly sure SB193 will pass the state Senate, but its fate is less certain in the Assembly.

“I can’t count on the Assembly, but a few key Assembly members are onboard,” she said. “Nine dollars is a good number that helps people and is very likely to pass and be signed into law.”

Farley worked with the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, or PLAN, before proposing a minimum wage hike. In addition, as chairwoman of the Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee she presided over a March 11 hearing of Segerblom’s resolution.

Stacey Shinn, the lobbyist for PLAN, said the progressive group is “all in” for $15 an hour and has been involved in protests by low-wage fast-food workers to attract attention to the cause.

The Republican effort is “a start, but it’s not even close to $15,” Shinn said, adding it wouldn’t help many people living below the poverty line.

The Nevada Democratic Party argues Farley’s amendment could actually lead to a decrease in wages for workers who are offered “junk” health care policies to keep their wages at the lowest basic rate of $7.25 per hour.

“Michael Roberson, Patricia Farley, and Senate Republicans’ bill actually lowers the pay of Nevada workers and their attempts to label it a minimum wage increase is disingenuous at best and a bold-faced lie at worst,” state Democratic Party spokesman Zach Hudson said in a statement. “Senate Republicans are trying to change the headlines from their proposals to repeal the minimum wage from Nevada’s Constitution and their cutting the minimum wage for construction workers earlier this session.”

Farley has gathered statistics to make a case for raising the minimum wage.

About 70 percent of the state’s minimum wage workers are not employed full-time, but most work two jobs. She blamed Obamacare for some of the problem because by 2016 larger employers will be required to offer full-time workers health insurance or pay a fine. So companies are using more part-time workers at 30 hours or less per week.

Only 3.8 percent of Nevada’s employees work for minimum wage at the $8.25 per hour rate, she said. Some 33.1 percent make between $8.26 and $15 per hour, with the remainder apparently having better-paying jobs.

The federal poverty level for one person is $11,770 per year; $15,930 for a household of two; and $24,250 for a household of four. A minimum wage of $9 per hour for a 40-hour workweek equals $18,720 per year.

After President Barack Obama’s recent proposal to bump the federal minimum wage to $10.10, Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval said he would oppose such an increase because it would mean a loss of jobs. But Sandoval spokeswoman Mari St. Martin said Tuesday the governor would consider signing a minimum wage hike bill.

“The governor has made building the new Nevada economy a priority of his administration,” St. Martin said in a statement. “He feels the best way to improve our economy and help all Nevadans is to continue diversifying the economy with a focus on attracting high-paying jobs of the 21st century.”

Contact Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919. Find her on Twitter: @lmyerslvrj.

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