Our argument against the state minimum wage hike at the time the bill was being debated in the Legislature was based on the law of unintended consequences.
While no one would deny the lowest wage-earners in the state deserve to make more money at their jobs, the reality is that a) employers would have to raise prices to the rest of us on the products or services they sell to balance their books, or b) employers would be forced to lay off workers or reduce hours, leading to a sharp rise in the state’s jobless rate.
We still believe that scenario remains likely.
But complications have now come to light that make raising the minimum wage in West Virginia from $7.25 an hour to $8.75 an hour over two years an even worse idea.
Brian Peterson, an attorney with the law firm Bowles Rice LLP, told reporters last week that the minimum wage hike also redefines overtime law as well. The minimum wage bill would override federal overtime exemptions that now cover 80 percent of West Virginia workers.
That change could affect employers who hire computer professionals, commissioned sales employees, seasonal recreational employees and highly compensated employees.
“The problem is that state regulations don’t match federal (law),” Peterson said. “They’re sort of trapped in time in 1982.”
Peterson said in terms of wage and hour law, federal law does not pre-empt state law. Instead, he said, workers are treated by whichever law is most generous. In this case, West Virginia law has 19 exemptions for overtime, while federal law has 50.
Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, and House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, are telling us not to worry. “Any minor clarifications ... can be taken care of during a brief special session before its effective date and is not a reason to veto the bill,” Kessler said in a statement.
But when would those minor corrections be made?
The minimum wage hike doesn’t go into effect until January 2015. But the changes in the law that would vastly increase who gets overtime pay and when would go into effect June 6.
No responsible business owner can take the chance that the Legislature will act appropriately and within such a very short time frame. Business owners and companies will be forced to make pre-emptive adjustments that could mean people losing their jobs, or having their hours reduced.
The result? West Virginia looks more and more like a place not to do business.
We urge Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to veto the flawed minimum wage bill.
It needs not just more debate, but a lot more thought before it becomes the law of the land in West Virginia.