President Bush supports increasing the minimum wage if lawmakers also establish a sub-minimum training wage, Elzabeth Dole told members of Congress in her first appearance as labor secretary.
Bush's stand puts him in opposition to the head of the Senate Labor Committee, Edward M. Kennedy, who said Thursday he remained opposed to a training wage and was confident his bill to raise the minimum hourly wage from $3.35 an hour to $4.55 would pass this year.Bush during the presidential campaign said in one interview that he supported some increase in the minimum wage, provided it was coupled with the training wage, although at other times his campaign said Bush was against an increase.
Mrs. Dole, sworn in to her Cabinet post four hours before the hearing, was not specific as to how high Bush favors raising the minimum wage or what kind of time limit to set on the training wage. Employers would be limited as to the length of time they could pay the training wage to a new worker.
"We have really not at this point had an opportunity to work through the legislative agenda so I do want an opportunity to go through this before I get into any great detail of what he is willing to support," Mrs. Dole said.
"We're going to get it raised this year for sure," Kennedy, D-Mass., said at the hearing, which he called to assess the impact of projected labor shortages and the prospect of averting them by training welfare recipients and lower-income workers for high-skills jobs.
Mrs. Dole said she could help erase the so-called "skills gap" in the American labor force by working to better coordinate the numerous job-training programs of government agencies and placing an emphasis on training the poor and unemployed.
"Minorities, the disadvantaged, persons with disabilities and other groups traditionally left behind will be in demand by employers as never before, but only if they are qualified," Mrs. Dole said.
In a brief interview after the hearing, Kennedy, who introduced his minimum wage bill Wednesday, said "my views haven't changed" and that he would try to get the bill through the Senate without a provision for a training wage.
Organized labor supports the increased minimum wage but opposes the training wage, in part because it believes some employers would use the lower wage to cut their costs by hiring people at the training wage and laying off higher-paid workers. Mrs. Dole said she would support adding language to the legislation to prevent that.
Kennedy's bill would raise the minimum wage from $3.35 an hour, its level since 1981, to $4.55 in three annual increases of 40 cents an hour. The wage then would be indexed to 50 percent of the hourly average income for U.S. workers. A similar bill has been introduced in the House.