Bill would drop minimum wage for more teens

Posted: Friday, April 18, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) Alaska businesses would be able to pay anyone under 20 years old less than minimum wage under a bill approved this week by a House committee.

The bill also would loosen rules on flex time arrangements and do away with some state rules governing when employees can be put on salary, instead of being paid hourly. Federal rules would apply instead.

Rep. Norman Rokeberg, R-Anchorage, said he introduced the bill to make Alaska's laws more conducive to doing businesses and to help young people get their first jobs.

I truly believe this will expand job opportunities for youngsters in the state of Alaska,'' Rokeberg said.

Representatives of organized labor say the bill rolls back hard-won protections for working people.

We're opposed to the entire bill,'' said Don Etheridge of the Alaska State AFL-CIO before the House Labor and Commerce Committee.

The measure would allow employers to pay workers below age 20 less than minimum wage for a 90-day training period. Alaska businesses can already pay less than minimum wage to employees under 18 who work fewer than 30 hours a week.

House Bill 255 expands that provision to 18- and 19-year-olds and to a 40-hour work week. Employers would still have to pay teens the federal minimum of $5.15 an hour.

Frank Rose, president of the Alaska Hotel and Lodging Association, said businesses provide a service by hiring inexperienced teens.

We're bringing young people in, and it's pretty intensive in terms of time to train that particular individual to do the job,'' Rose said.

Opponents argued it does not take 90 days to train teens to cook burgers or make beds. And they said some people under 20 already have families to support.

Chip Wagoner of the Alaska Catholic Conference said the state's Roman Catholic bishops oppose lowering the minimum wage.

The most often-cited subject in the New Testament is service to the poor,'' Wagoner said. This bill is an attempt to take $2 out of the pockets of those people that need it the most and put $2 into the pockets of people who don't need it as much.''

Rokeberg argued that nothing would prevent businesses from paying teens more, and if they were good workers, they'd get raises or find better-paying jobs. He also said the provision is similar to what's allowed in federal law.

The bill also would do away with some state regulations on when employees can be put on salary and be exempt from overtime laws.

Currently, the state lets companies exempt some workers from overtime laws even if up to 40 percent of their time is spent on tasks that would normally be covered by overtime laws. That's allowed only if their pay is 2.5 times the minimum wage.

With the boost this year in the state minimum wage to $7.15 an hour, that means those businesses must pay salaried employees the equivalent of $17.88 an hour, Rokeberg said.

His bill would do away with that provision and rely instead on federal rules dealing with when employees are exempt from overtime. Those regulations are being amended.

A draft of the new federal rules calls for employees to make at least $425 a week, or the equivalent of $10.63 an hour, to be exempt from overtime laws. Other tests also would apply.

The bill also would repeal a requirement that the Department of Labor and Workforce Development commissioner approve flex time'' agreements that let employees work more than eight hours some days without overtime.

Current law limits flex times deals to no more than 10 hours a day and 40 hours a week.

Rokeberg proposes requiring a written agreement between worker and boss to be filed with the department, but not requiring the commissioner's approval.

Also, he would limit flex time agreements to no more than 12 hours a day without overtime and no more than 80 hours in a two-week period.

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