MONTPELIER — The Senate has given final approval to a minimum wage bill, setting up a showdown with the House over just how fast the state’s lowest-paid workers should see a boost in their pay.
The Senate approved its version of the legislation Monday after defeating two additional amendments.
This version will raise the minimum hourly rate for workers to $10.50 in 2018. First it would raise the rate from its current $8.73 an hour to $9.15 on Jan. 1. The wage would then go to $9.60, $10 and $10.50 over the next three years. Annual cost-of-living increases based on the consumer price index would resume in 2019.
The House-passed version would raise the rate to $10.10 on Jan. 1, followed by increases based on the consumer price index.
Sen. Peter Galbraith, D-Windham, offered an amendment Monday that would require companies with 50 or more employees to pay at least $12 an hour. The proposal, he said, was based on “broad sympathy for the idea that Vermont taxpayers should not be subsidizing” low-wage employees at very profitable companies through social welfare programs.
“This is a provision that reflects the debate that we had on Friday,” Galbraith said. “This is a bill that will help Vermont taxpayers. It will put some extra money into the pockets of low-wage earners, and it will not impact small businesses.”
Galbraith said locally owned franchises would be subject to the higher wage requirement if the parent company had more than 50 employees.
The Senate rejected his amendment on an 18-10 vote after Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, the chairman of the Senate Economic Development Committee, said the committee found it unfavorable.
Another amendment offered by Sen. Peg Flory, R-Rutland, was also defeated. She sought a 12-week training wage of 85 percent of minimum wage.
“This is fashioned on the very same law that applies to the federal minimum wage,” she said.
Galbraith questioned whether a company could hire an entire seasonal staff and pay the lower wage, then rehire the same staff again at the lower wage.
Flory said both federal and case law would prevent that from happening.
However, Flory acknowledged a ski resort could rehire a lift attendant for another position at the lower wage “if that person was foolish enough to do it.”
“If you’re hiring them for a new job with new job skills you probably would be able to,” she said.
The Economic Development Committee also opposed that amendment, Mullin said. It failed on a 22-4 vote.
A conference committee will likely be requested by the House to hammer out the differences in the two versions.
Rep. Helen Head, D-South Burlington, the chairwoman of the House General Affairs Committee, wrote in an email Monday evening that she had not seen the Senate’s final version. However, a conference committee was likely to be requested “unless the Senate moved much closer (than what was proposed by Senate Economic Development) to the House version of the bill.”
Both chambers’ bills differ from what Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin wants. He has called for increasing the wage to $10.10 by 2017 in three stages. He has been touting that plan since attending a March event in Connecticut with President Barack Obama and other New England governors.
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