Last updated on 2016.10.19
South Dakota Senate Republicans yesterday declared that neither young people's labor nor the popular will matter when they want to cut business a break. On a party-line 26–7 vote, the Senate yesterday passed Senate Bill 177 which would set the minimum wage for workers under 18 at $7.50, a buck less than the $8.50 South Dakota voters established as the minimum wage last November.
Prime sponsor Senator David Novstrup (R-3/Aberdeen, who speaks as if he is afraid of the microphone, or of his own bill) says he's just trying to give kids the opportunity to work. He asserts that business owners have told him the increased minimum wage is causing them not to hire young people, allowing them to pay kids less ensures they can still get jobs. When asked by Senator Billie Sutton (D-21/Burke) how many workers would be affected by this pay decrease, Senator Novstrup admitted he doesn't have numbers. "There's a lot of games you can play with statistics," said Novstrup... which statement is the hallmark of a debater who is losing an evidence-based debate.
In response to concerns that employers would lay off adult workers to exploit cheaper youth labor, Senator Novstrup pointed to the line in Section 2 of his bill that says, "No employer may take any action to displace an employee, including a partial displacement through a reduction in hours, wages, or employment benefits, in order to hire an employee at the wage authorized in this Act."
While Senator Novstrup digs through his briefcase looking for the enforcement mechanism for that clause, I ask this question: suppose you're starting a business. You need an entry-level worker. You get apps from a 17-year-old and a 19-year-old, both about equally qualified. Whom will you hire: the 19-year-old at $8.50 an hour, or the 17-year-old at $7.50 an hour? Nothing in SB 177 stops you from making the economic choice and getting the same labor less money, thanks to GOP age discrimination.
Senator Bernie Hunhoff (D-18/Yankton) said such age discrimination does not reflect South Dakota values. He said we should respect the dignity of work, regardless of the worker's age.
Senator Sutton added that we should also respect the will of the voters. South Dakotans voted to raise the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour last November, without qualification or exception. Senator Gary Cammack (R-29/Union Center) said SB 177 doesn't violate the people's will; it just adds a provision that should have been in the initiative in the first place. Senator Scott Parsley (D-8/Madison) challenged that wordplay: he said that if the minimum-wage initiative had been lacking something, the voters would have rejected it.
Senate Majority Leader Tim Rave (R-25/Baltic) then dismissed all talk of the voters' will. He said senators can't sit around respecting the sanctity of the initiative for a year, or two years, or five years, or whatever. Telling legislators they are elected to show "courage," he exhorted them to vote on SB 177 on its own merits, independent of the results of the November election. That's clever verbiage, but it's rhetorical cover for, "You darn Democrats, and you darn voters! We'll show you who's boss! Pass all the initiatives you want; we will by gum change them however we see fit!"
Senate Bill 177 now heads to the House, where high school pages, who work for free, can silently watch their Republican bosses further devalue their peers' labor.