AP Photo, Cathleen Allison
Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011 | 3:39 p.m.
CARSON CITY – Abolishing Nevada's minimum wage would hurt low-paid workers who are spending their money locally while executives and higher-paid workers wouldn't see a change, labor representatives said Wednesday.
But representatives of employer groups urged a Senate committee to approve a proposed constitutional amendment to scrap the minimum wage law and requirements they say result in businesses not hiring, in some cases.
Before a packed hearing room, the Senate Committee on Commerce and Energy took testimony on Senate Joint Resolution 2, which would put the issue before voters over whether to eliminate the requirement that employers pay a minimum wage.
Nevada’s minimum wage is $8.25 an hour unless the employer provides qualified health insurance to the worker and his or her dependents. If health insurance is provided, the minimum wage drops to $7.25 cents an hour.
Danny Thompson, representing the Nevada AFL-CIO, told the committee that well-paid workers are putting their money in Swiss bank accounts while minimum wage earners are spending in the community.
Rita Weisshaar, who retired from NV Energy, noted a recent newspaper story reported that Michael Yackira, president and CEO of the utility, is earning $4.5 million a year.
“Take a look at the higher paid employees” instead of lower paid workers, she urged.
Samuel McMullen, representing the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, argued that a minimum wage shouldn't be locked into the constitution. "Let the people take it out and manage it on a case-by-case basis," he said.
Putting it in the constitution had some unintended consequences, McMullen said. For instance, restaurant servers make money off tips but they still enjoy minimum wage protection.
“Allow it to be revisited by the public,” McMullen urged the committee.
The Legislature rejected setting a minimum wage, so labor representatives circulated an initiative petition to set the minimum wage and tie it to the cost of living. Voters in 2004 approved the minimum wage initiative 68.3 to 31.6 percent, and voted again in 2006, 68.7 to 31.2 percent.
Gail Tuzzola, political coordinator for the AFL-CIO, said the current initiative to abolish the minimum wage would take money away from the lowest paid workers. She motioned around the room, many of those present wearing suits, and said, “Nobody in this room would be affected.”
Thompson said the amendment would “be a slap in the face” of the people who overwhelmingly approved the constitutional amendment on minimum wage.
Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, questioned why people shouldn't have a chance to vote on the issue again. Thompson answered that voters signed a petition initially to get the issue on the ballot.
McMullen, joined by the Nevada Retail Association, said the chamber opposes the minimum wage law being cemented in the constitution. He said circumstances have changed.
The committee didn't take action on the resolution. It would have to be passed by this and the next regular session of the Legislature, and then approved by voters.