CARSON CITY — Business groups that backed a bill changing Nevada’s overtime law balked Wednesday at a last-minute amendment added in the Senate to raise the minimum wage for some workers to $9 per hour.
Senate Bill 193, presented by Republican state Sens. James Settelmeyer of Minden and Patricia Farley of Las Vegas, originally dealt only with Nevada’s overtime law, which currently requires employers to pay low-wage earners time-and-one-half for hours worked in excess of eight hours within a 24-hour period.
The overtime law does not apply to workers covered by collective bargaining agreements.
The measure would change the law to require overtime only after 40 hours worked in a week. Supporters said it would give employers more flexibility to adjust schedules and allow employees to work extra hours without additional costs to their employers.
But at Farley’s suggestion, the bill was amended at the last minute in the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor to also raise Nevada’s minimum wage to $9 per hour, a 75-cent increase for workers who do not receive employer-paid health insurance. The minimum wage for those who are offered health coverage would remain at $7.25.
The bill was approved in the Senate on a party-line vote, with Democrats opposed.
The Democratic minority tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill on the floor and raise both minimum wage tiers to $10.10 and $9.10; $9.50 and $8.50; and $9 and $8, depending on whether insurance is offered. Each failed 11-9 along party lines.
State Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, had proposed a separate minimum wage constitutional amendment raising the rate to $15 per hour, but that died in committee.
In testimony Wednesday before the Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee, representatives of chambers of commerce, the Nevada Restaurant Association and independent business groups spoke in favor of the overtime provision but expressed reservations about the minimum wage bump.
Democrats on the committee said the $9 rate wouldn’t provide workers with a living wage.
“Do you believe the $9 will prevent folks from having to work two jobs now?” asked Assemblywoman Dina Neal, D-North Las Vegas.
“No,” Settelmeyer responded.
Some suggested the minimum wage portion should be stripped from the bill altogether.
Randy Thompson, state director of the National Federal of Independent Business, said her organization was “very concerned” about the minimum wage increase.
Tim Wulf, owner of Jimmy Johns restaurant, said all his employees start at minimum wage, something he described as a “training wage.”
Raising that minimum would have a ripple effect because his seasoned workers will want the same incremental increase, he said.
“My business generated 41,000 labor hours last year,” Wulf said. When payroll taxes and other costs are factored in, “you’re talking about $41,000 in additional costs,” he said.
Labor groups supported the wage hike but opposed limiting overtime.
“I actually represent workers, and I’ve never had one come to me and say, ‘Take away my overtime,’ ” said Danny Thompson of the Nevada State AFL-CIO.
Critics of the overtime provision said it would amount to a pay cut for low-wage workers and subject them to possible exploitation by bosses who demand they work more hours without added compensation.
“Even with the $9 increase, if you eliminate the overtime provisions, it is a pay cut,” said Yvanna Cancela, with Culinary Workers Local 226, explaining that most low-wage earners only work 30 hours or less and are not given the opportunity to work more than 40 hours.
She proposed an amendment to have overtime kick in after 10 hours worked in a day instead of eight and require an eight-hour break between shifts.
Settelmeyer said Nevada is one of four states that require overtime after eight hours and the only state that has the 24-hour rule.
He said the bill would adopt federal law on the issue.
Farley said about 22,000 Nevadans working full time make the lower minimum wage, earning about $15,080 a year. She said those workers qualify for Medicaid under the federal health care law.
She said many employers, to avoid having to provide insurance, have reduced low-wage earners to less than 30 hours a week.
She said giving those workers a raise would allow them to afford coverage on the state health exchange.
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Business groups that backed a bill changing Nevada’s overtime law balked Wednesday at a last-minute amendment added in the Senate to raise the minimum wage for some workers to $9 per hour.