By Pamela Pritt
Compromise negotiations between labor and industry resulted in a minimum-wage hike that achieves the same result — $8.75 per hour — but takes three years to get there instead of two, while decreasing the initial year’s earnings hourly increase by 50 cents.
That’s the thrust of the bill that passed out of the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday.
Sen. Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, said the decrease takes $1,040 away from minimum wage workers in the first year and $520 in the second, before raising wages to the $17,850 annual salary assuming one week of unpaid vacation.
Unger questioned Jan Vineyard of the West Virginia Oil Marketers and Grocers Association about her support of the bill.
“Have you been for this bill all along?” Unger asked.
“No,” Vineyard replied.
“We can live with it,” she said.
“Are you for it?” he asked again.
“I will support the bill as it is,” she said.
Raymona Kinneberg, vice-president of Bill J. Crouch and Associates, a health care consulting service, said minimum wage workers are worried that the increase would put them above the income level allowed for receiving services such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Medicaid.
“If you raise it by 75 cents they will fall out of those programs,” she said.
“People would need to maintain their eligibility for other benefits.”
Kinneberg used a health benefits example.
“If they start earning 140 percent of the poverty level, then they’ll have to start paying through the marketplace for their insurance,” she said. “The impact is not just the increase in salary.”
She said minimum wage earners would actually want to cut their hours so they could still qualify for benefits.
Morgantown resident Jamie Gudiel, a two-job minimum wage worker, said Kinneberg got it wrong.
After the committee meeting, Gudiel said she was “offended” that Kinneberg spoke for minimum wage workers she doesn’t know.
“The point is we want to make a better wage,” Gudiel said. “We want to be able to afford our groceries. We want to make something for ourselves.”
The 35-year-old mother of three said she and others who work with her in the retail industry want to make a better life for themselves and their children.
“(Kinneberg) just pushed us back a step,” she said. “$8.75 is not going to rock the earth; it’s not going to change my life, but it is a start to a better life.”
No one representing labor was present at the meeting, but AFL-CIO President Kenneth Perdue said his organization would not oppose the bill.
“We’re not taking care of working people by starting out at 25 cents. We supported the bill in the House when it was 75 cents. We believe people need to take care of their kids and keep their heads above water,” Perdue said.
Sen. Doug Facemire, D-Braxton, said in the meeting that the entire Senate should be representing the working class.
“I ask you to vote your conscience,” he said. “I don’t think anybody here is going to argue that $7.25 is what these people should be making.”
Unger and Facemire voted against the amendment to reduce the initial increase. Both voted for the bill to pass out of committee.
The Finance Committee also passed the resolution to put the Nonprofit Youth Organization Tax Exemption Support Amendment, which would allow the Summit Bechtel National Scout Reserve in Fayette County to make a profit.