ST. GEORGE — Two bills seeking to increase wages for the state’s lowest-paid workers have been introduced in the Utah Legislature this year.
Not since 2009, when federal laws mandated it, has Utah minimum wage been increased from $7.25 per hour. Employees working primarily for tips are only required to be paid $2.13 per hour, and that law hasn’t changed since 1991.
“All I’m trying to do is make life better for people who need a hand up,” Rep. Lynn Hemingway, D-District 40, said.
Hemingway is sponsoring the two bills seeking an increase in minimum wages, specifically an Hourly Wage Increase Amendments law, designated as HB 117, and Cash Wage Obligation Minimum for Tipped Employees law, designated HB 118.
The hourly wage amendments would increase minimum wage in Utah to $10.25 per hour starting July 1, eventually increasing to $12 per hour on July 1, 2022.
The cash wage obligation law would require employers to pay their tipped workers at least $3.25 per hour, up from $2.13. As is already the case, if reported tips do not match the federal minimum wage, the employer is required to make up the difference in the employee’s hourly rate of pay.
Hemingway initially introduced legislation calling for an increase of the minimum wage in Utah to $15 per hour several years ago and has steadily reduced that number in subsequent legislative proposals as the higher amounts were quickly voted down by the Republican-dominated state House and Senate.
“This year, I did the $10.25 but I held back,” Hemingway said, “and it never does escalate to $15 an hour.”
Recognizing the uphill battle similar legislation has faced in previous years, he said he’s willing to work with Republicans on the specifics of the bill.
“I’m willing to negotiate just about all of it,” he said. “It doesn’t have to go to $12, it could go to $11.25.”
His passion to get something done has to do with the myriad problems facing low-income workers, he said.
“The folks who are living on minimum wage are having to work two or three jobs.”
Citing statistics that indicate 16 percent of homeless people in Utah have full-time jobs, Hemingway said low-income workers end up costing the state enormously in the form of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Medicaid benefits.
Some workers in Southern Utah are at an especially severe disadvantage on the income ladder, such as Native Americans in San Juan County, according to an editorial by Ryan Benally published in the The Deseret News Friday.
“As it stands, 42.9 percent of tribal members living on the reservation have incomes of less than $8,350 per year,” Benally wrote. “In Utah, the poverty rate of Native Americans is 28.9 percent.”
“It’s a cascade of things that could be solved with just a slight raise to the minimum wage,” Hemingway said.
On the other hand, Southern Utah’s Rep. V. Lowry Snow, R-District 74, said there’s a place for lower-paying entry level jobs.
“Most of us have been there,” Snow said in a previous interview with St. George News. “We take a summer working in fast food or labor. … They actually become part of the education experience, I think. I would hate to see those dry up by the state or the federal government exercising arbitrary labor controls in terms of increasing the minimum wage.”
Of the 40,000 workers in Utah earning minimum wage, Hemmingway said, most are not high school- or college-age employees.
“Most of the minimum wage workers are over 25 years old, and a large number of them are over 30,” Hemmingway said, adding that a large portion of those workers are single mothers.
Besides his Republican colleagues, Hemmingway said a number of special interests have opposed his legislative efforts, such as small business owners, who argued the cost of doing business doesn’t always keep up with wage hikes.
“My real motivation here,” Hemingway said, “is to get it to a point where a mom and dad, if they both work, can come home from work and spend the night with their kids – doing schoolwork, playing games – being mom and dad instead of having both of them going out for second jobs.”
He said that can be achieved with the modest wage increases he’s asking for. In the case of tipped workers, he’s only asking for an extra $1.12 per hour.
“There are people out there living on so little, that extra $8 a day would make a huge difference.”
Both bills have been introduced and are awaiting consideration by the House Business and Labor Committee. The bills have been sent to Alysha S. Gardner for fiscal analysis.
- Read full text of the bills: Utah 2018 HB 117 – Hourly Wage Increase Amendments | Utah 2018 HB 118 – Cash Wage Obligation Minimum for Tipped Employees
- Contact legislators
- Bill sponsor: Lynn Hemmingway
- Southern Utah Sens. Evan Vickers, Don Ipson, David Hinkins and Ralph Okerlund | Listing of all senators.
- Southern Utah Reps. Travis Seegmiller, Bradley Last, V. Lowry Snow, Walt Brooks, John Westwood, Merrill Nelson and Michael Noel | Listing of all members of the House of Representatives.
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