Attempt to raise minimum wage in Utah doesn't gain traction

Published: Monday, March 3 2014 10:55 p.m. MST

John Jarvie changes a chain on a bike at bikewagon.com in North Salt Lake, Monday, March 3, 2014.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Gordon Rose makes nearly double minimum wage as a lead shipper assembling bicycle parts and camping gear for customers at Bikewagon.

In fact, all of his co-workers also earn more than $7.25 an hour, Utah's current rate.

"It makes everyone happier,” he said. "They feel more invested in what they’re doing rather than just coming and clocking in and clocking out. They want to make a difference in the company."

A full-time worker and full-time student at the University of Utah, Rose said he wouldn't be able make it on minimum wage.

But he won't have any new company in earning more than that per hour, at least not anytime soon.

An attempt to raise Utah's minimum wage to $10.25 an hour didn't get much traction in a legislative hearing Monday, but state lawmakers are open to studying the issue.

The House Health and Human Services Committee referred HB73 for possible study over the summer.

"This really is a complex issue. It's more than increasing the amount of wage someone earns," said Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove.

In addition to raising the minimum wage, Rep. Lynn Hemingway's bill would have given restaurant servers and those who work mostly for tips a $1 increase to $3.13 an hour. It would have applied only to workers ages 17 and older.

"This is not a support-your-local-teenager sort of a bill," said Art Sutherland, a volunteer for the Coalition of Religious Communities. The multifaith group of 16 denominations supports the bill.

Hemingway, a Salt Lake City Democrat, sees it as a living wage.

"A living wage is one that, in my opinion, pulls people out of poverty. It doesn’t abandon them to it," he said.

Hemingway said a higher minimum wage would increase buying power, help the economy grow and keep families out of the social safety net.

But several lobbyists representing the business community said it would put people out of work, cause companies to shut down and drive prices up for consumers.

"This would have a chilling effect on us as employers," said Kate Bradshaw, representing Utah food industries and retail merchants.

Experience and ability should dictate pay, not government setting an artificial value on people, Bradshaw said.

Candace Daly, the Utah director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said half of those who make minimum wage are under 26 and not the primary earners in their homes.

"This will destroy the jobs for those who are between 16 and 26," Daly said.

Hemingway acknowledged that there's a real possibility that people could lose their jobs. But he said there would be more money to feed into the economy with a higher wage.

"These are people who are going to spend this money. They're not going to put it in an account in Switzerland," he said.

Bikewagon owner George Majors starts shippers at $9 or $10 dollars an hour. He said he wanted to create a "lifestyle company" where employees would be happy.

“We find that by paying them a little higher wage, we don’t have very much turnover,” Majors said.

Bikewagon has paid more than minimum wage since opening in 2004, he said.

If the minimum wage were to increase, Majors said Bikewagon would raise the income of their employees as well.

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