No minimum wage hike in Utah this year as lawmakers reject proposed legislation

Stock image of State Capitol, Salt Lake City, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Two bills proposing to increase the minimum wage requirements in Utah for both tipped workers as well as traditional “minimum wage” positions failed to receive support from legislators Thursday.

Hourly wage increase amendments, designated in the 2018 Utah Legislature as HB 117, would have increased the state’s minimum wage to $10.25 per hour. The other bill, cash wage obligation minimum for tipped employees, designated HB 118, would have required employers to pay tipped workers at least $3.25 per hour.

Both bills fell far short of receiving favorable recommendation from the House Business and Labor Committee, with a 12-2 vote against HB 117 and 10-2 against HB 118, with two legislators absent for the vote on HB 118. In both cases, newly appointed Southern Utah Rep. Travis Seegmiller, R-St. George, voted against recommendation.

Seegmiller, who recently replaced Jon Stanard as the District 62 representative, did not return messages seeking comment.

Following this action, minimum wage will remain at the federally mandated rate of $7.25 per hour. The required wage for tipped workers, such as restaurant servers and bartenders, will remain at $2.13, unchanged for 27 years. Employers will still have to make up the difference if an employee’s tip earnings fall below the federal minimum wage.

Rep. Brian S. King, D-Salt Lake City | Profile photo courtesy Utah House of Representatives, St. George News

“One of the critical things here that we’re dealing with is the inability of individuals to make ends meet when they’re working a full-time job,” Rep. Brian S. King, D-Salt Lake City, said during the bill’s committee hearing.

King took over sponsorship of the bills as their previous sponsor, Rep. Lynn Hemingway, D-Salt Lake City, has been unable to attend the Legislature due to an illness in his family.

Read more: It’s still legal to pay tipped workers $2.13 per hour in Utah. A legislator hopes to change minimum wage laws

Full-time workers making minimum wage should be able to make a living wage and not have their household income fall below the federal poverty level, King said, adding that low-paid workers often rely on government assistance like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, even with full-time employment.

“I recognize and appreciate the free market; it’s something that I deal with every day in my own business activities … but it can run itself into the ground if we’re not careful to impose some guardrails,” King said. “The minimum wage is a guardrail that’s reasonable for working people.”

Representatives from small businesses and restaurant and retail industries spoke against the bill, arguing that the majority of jobs in Utah already pay above minimum wage.

“In Utah right now it is very difficult for our small businesses to find anyone who will apply for a job … they have to offer more than just the minimum wage in order to make sure they have good applicants,” Candace Daly, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, said.

“I don’t think it’s needed. I think it’s being market-driven and we are finding many places where jobs are available at higher wages, they just can’t find the workforce.”

Raising wages will cause industries to seek cost-cutting measures, such as mechanization, which would put more people out of the job, said Kate Bradshaw, a representative of the Utah Food Industry and Utah Retail Merchants associations.

Stock image showing dollar bills and a quarter adding up to $7.25, the current U.S. federal minimum wage | Photo by IcemanJ, iStock / Getty Images Plus, St. George News

Bradshaw said this is already apparent with automated checkout stands.

In support of the proposed measures were several members of Utahns for Fair Wages, arguing first and foremost that rising housing costs are making the cost of living prohibitive low wage-earners.

“According to the Utah department of workforce services, nowhere in Utah can a full-time employee earning minimum wage afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment at fair market value in any of Utah’s counties,” Utahns for Fair Wages member Christy Clay said.

“This is a state that values families and you have entire households unable to afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market value,” Clay said. “Raising the minimum wage is the first step in making that possible.”

In refutation, Daly said most of the people working in minimum wage jobs are teenagers or college students who often do not share in full cost-of-living expenses as they live with roommates or at their parents’ homes. In the case of tipped workers, she said, they usually make significantly more than minimum wage.

On the other hand, King said the majority of employees working as restaurant servers are adult women.

“Most of us in the Utah State Legislature are men,” he said, “and sometimes I think we’re a little insensitive to the economic reality of those who are struggling to make ends meet working in these service industries on a full-time basis.”

Even though the median income for tipped workers is higher than minimum wage, with workers averaging around $20,000 per year, the pay can be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, Rep. Mark A. Wheatley, D-Salt Lake City, said.

Consistently being paid an extra $1.13 per hour could make a big difference for those tipped workers struggling to make ends meet, said Bill Tibbitts, associate director of Crossroads Urban Center.


Read more: See all St. George News reports on Utah Legislature 2018 issues

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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  • utahdiablo March 5, 2018 at 8:21 pm

    Minimum wage and Tipped workers making $2.13 all need to remember these POS who voted to screw them over once again…27 years at $2.13? Anyone see anything wrong with that? …yet the state govenment sure as hell got raises….remember this and vote them the hell out of office

    • jaltair March 5, 2018 at 11:24 pm

      I agree. Those bills should have passed. The wages in Utah are known to be low as compared to many states.

      I believe Utah is relying on the fact many low-paid positions are students (indentured servants). I know some who barely make ends meet as waitresses, they need a break Utah! They need a good wage. Tips aren’t always much.

      To our State leaders . . are you being paid to keep wages stagnate?

      • comments March 6, 2018 at 12:36 am

        “To our State leaders . . are you being paid to keep wages stagnate?”

        No state reps are gonna answer, so I’ll go ahead for them. Yes they are. They tow the R-party line, so if they can’t ship US jobs off to china or mexico they will do their best to keep wages at dead rock bottom while giving themselves raises. Our state has a lot in common with the deep south when it comes to junk wages. If I was working for wages I would not be living here. It’s a fool’s errand.

        • desertgirl March 6, 2018 at 6:59 am

          Our states average income is higher than the national average, by over $8000.00. Economic and job growth does happen when strapping small businesses with onerous regulations and requirements.

      • desertgirl March 6, 2018 at 6:57 am

        Fact: Utah average income of $65,977 is over $8,000 the national average. State your opinion not lies.

        • comments March 6, 2018 at 10:57 am

          The wages up north are much higher than here in “suddern utah”. Whatever average you’ve found doesn’t hold a lot of weight down here.

        • No Filter March 6, 2018 at 12:58 pm

          Your numbers are not a good reflection of Southern Utah that is for sure. That’s $33.00 an hour! Our registered nurses don’t even make that much money working at the hospital. They should have to throw out all the numbers from people making over a million dollars and then maybe we could see a “real” median income in Utah.

        • Chris March 6, 2018 at 1:53 pm

          you are apparently looking at average household income. now try looking at per capital income. Utah ranks 41st there.

  • tcrider March 6, 2018 at 7:45 am

    When ever a person mentions the Union word around this part
    of the country, people will look at you like you just committed
    a murder.

  • HappyCrap March 6, 2018 at 10:52 am

    What a crock .. This is so dishonorable of our representatives. Perhaps they should go bus tables and serve food for those wages that they continue to vote for. They succumb to the lobbyists in this state. The lobbyists have more power than the citizens. And where does the money for payoffs come from? The beverage industry! This is one area where money becomes evil. To watch how hard these people work while serving and cleaning. They have to work for these wages, otherwise, they can’t work. It is deplorable just to think that our values as business people have sunk so low. How does it not bother them to watch their employees work so hard and know what they are paid? It’s time to rid our state of the “good old boys” club and vote for new representatives that are for the working citizens of this state. They should get a minimum of $ 12.00 an hour. I am ashamed of our representatives that voted this critical bill down. What goes around comes around .. Just not quick enough!

  • karensg March 6, 2018 at 11:23 am

    This is disgraceful. I hope the next ballot designates which are incumbents so we know who not to vote for. Better yet, a published list at voting time of who was/is for raising the minimum wage and who was/is against it. Come on legislators, at least $1/hr., even if it’s a tax hike for me!

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