Bill to slice minimum wage for young part-time workers heads to Senate

Senate Commerce Committee vice chairman Tyler Pace and Chair Michelle B. Ugenti-Rita.

By Erica Figueroa

PHOENIX – Arizona lawmakers could allow employers to slash the minimum wage for young part-time workers to as low as $7.25 an hour, a measure that drew a contentious crowd of supporters and opponents to a Senate committee hearing Thursday.

Senate Commerce Committee vice chairman Tyler Pace and Chair Michelle B. Ugenti-Rita voted in favor of a bill that would lower the minimum wage for certain young workers. (Photo by Erica Figueroa/Cronkite News)

The Commerce Committee approved House Bill 2523, sending the measure to the full Senate and extending a boisterous debate.

Some business owners support the bill, which would pay students who work part time and are younger than 22 the federal standard rather than the state minimum wage of $11 an hour. Supporters said it makes economic sense to pay young people less than more experienced employees, and it allows businesses to hire more people.

“It gives them (employers) more flexibility to find those certain individuals between those ages that are working part time and plug them in,” said Joe Galli, senior public policy advisor for the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce.

College student Elizabeth Thorley was among those at the Thursday hearing who disagreed, saying the bill would allow employers to discriminate against young people.

She said her job helps pay her tuition at Arizona State University, car note, medical expenses and other bills. And, as someone with a chronic illness, she said she was concerned that a lower minimum wage also would harm people with disabilities.

“I beg of you, please don’t throw young and vulnerable Arizonans’ lives into fear and chaos,” Thorley said, directing her next remarks to the hearing room’s audience. “And if you stand with me, if you stand with young workers, and if you stand against the creation of the separate wage class, please stand.”

ASU student Elizabeth Thorley asks people to stand in opposition to a bill that would lower the the minimum wage for students who work part time and are younger than 22. (Photo by Erica Figueroa/Cronkite News)

Many did, in silence.

Bill opponents also said a decrease in the minimum wage would mainly hurt students who must pay bills with little financial help or who are primary breadwinners.

Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Phoenix, said it’s illegal in Arizona for an employer to discriminate against a worker based on age.

Rep. Travis Grantham, who sponsored the bill, said companies will not pay a high hourly wage to someone with no experience.

“I don’t see it as discriminatory when we’re opening up a job opportunity for someone who’s been priced out of a job market,” the Gilbert Republican said.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25, but many states and cities pay a higher hourly wage. In January, Arizona was among 22 states that increased the minimum wage.

That bump took Arizona’s minimum wage to $11, part of a gradual hike that voters approved in 2016. The minimum wage is expected to reach $12 an hour by 2020.

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  1. Albert and Aric seem to be as abysmally ignorant about both economics and morality as the apparent majority of politicians.
    Albert whines about “greed,” which is always a flaw in others, but not in him and the people he agrees with.
    I am “greedy” because I want to keep what is mine, what I have earned; but he is not “greedy” because he wants to take it. Hmmmmm.
    Aric says “They have bills to pay too” and seems to have no concept that, if labor costs go up, as of course they do with higher wages, then prices go up.
    I mean, DUH! Why is that so hard to understand?
    Even children understand that, but not politicians, not so-called mainstream “news” writers, and not Aric and Albert.
    Worse than the economic illiteracy, and, to be blunt, stupidity, is the moral question of governmental interference in what should be private relationships.
    I would hope both Albert and Aric would not want government to interfere in my personal romantic relationships, nor in my personal religious relationships, so why should they want government to interfere in my financial and/or economic relationships?
    Another member of the legislature just got booted out — yes, he “resigned,” but because of pressure. Legislators can’t even run their own lives.
    Yet they, and supporters like Albert and Aric, want those same people running OUR lives?

    • Businesses can easily afford to pay more without raising prices. One only has to look at In n Out as a model. They have always paid their new employees more than the minimum wage plus all employees get healthcare, vision and dental plus education benefits, yet their prices are actually lower for a double-double which is equal to a quarter pounder. Because they pay higher taxes ages, turn over is the lowest in the industry, saving them millions of dollars in recruiting, hiring and training new employees and better paid employees results in higher productivity and less mistakes. All of these factors has led to In n Out per store sales being the top of their industry. I know I certainly don’t want someone making minimum wage building a house or car that I buy and certainly wouldn’t want a minimum wage worker assembling a medical device that I would be dependent on to save my life. What would prevent employers to fire employers from firing older workers just so they could hire kids for less money? What about those older people who depend on jobs such as greeters at Walmart that need that income to help pay for the high cost of medication? Now employers will discriminate against them and only hire kids under 21. It’ll be harder for 21 year olds to get a job as employers know in less than a year, they’ll have to give them a $5.00 an hour wage.

      Want more proof companies can pay more without raising prices effecting them to compete? Look at Costco bs Sam’s Club! Costco has a high starting salary with a 401k along with healthcare and education benefits compared to low paying Sam’ Club, yet Costco prices are as low if not lower than Sam’s Club and Costco per store sales are higher.

      It’s obvious it’s you that is ignorant, not the two people you are accusing.

  2. Many 18 to 21 yr olds are going to college and are not being supported by their parents. They have bills to pay too. I believe they should get paid the state minimum wage. This bill is wrong.

  3. Minimum wage is not a “high hourly wage,” and 21-year-old students are not second-class citizens. This bill is about employer greed, not worker opportunity, and should be stopped in its tracks.

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