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.
“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.
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.
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 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: Brian S. King
- 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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