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September 21, 2014

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Nevada’s workers are getting the shaft while amendment isn’t being enforced

In both 2004 and 2006 Nevada voters overwhelmingly passed Ballot Question 6, a constitutional amendment that gave Nevada workers a raise and set the state minimum wage above the federal minimum level.

The new law essentially set up a two-tier minimum wage system: employers could pay at the lower minimum wage level (today, $7.25, as opposed to $8.25) “if the employer provides health benefits.” Workers who do not receive health insurance from their employer are to be paid the full $8.25 minimum wage per hour. Workers who are provided qualifying health insurance benefits can be paid at the $7.25 level.

In order to qualify for the privilege of paying the dollar less, the provided health insurance must be truly comprehensive and be available to the worker and all of his or her dependents at a premium cost of no more than 10 percent of the employees’ gross wages from the employer.

When voters give state government a clear mandate, they expect their leaders to work on behalf of the public will. That’s not what’s happened with Ballot Question 6, and our workers are paying the price, every single hour of every day.

The problem started under the Gibbons administration, which is not surprising, but the Sandoval administration hasn’t taken action to right the ship and defend low-wage workers. Labor commissioners under both governors’ administrations have failed to set up a compliance system to verify if workers are being provided proper health insurance, and haven’t brought a single enforcement action against an employer who is flouting the law. Furthermore, the regulations created to implement the law give employers every opportunity to avoid paying the full minimum wage or providing comprehensive health benefits.

Now the state is facing a lawsuit alleging that it is not doing enough to help the very people the constitutional amendment was designed to benefit: Nevada’s lowest-paid workers. This lawsuit should be a wake-up call for everyone who cares about hardworking Nevada families.

Is it any wonder we see little trust in government, when there is a real question about whether our government will stand up for workers on something so basic as a fair paycheck? In this case, the result may be minimum wage workers losing a dollar per hour — every hour — for their work, yet not gaining the low-cost, comprehensive health insurance they were promised. For people working hard but struggling to make ends meet that would be devastating.

It appears to be happening to workers by the thousands. One dollar per hour worked, over seven years, adds up to real money that could be making a difference in these workers’ lives and could be making a difference of hundreds of millions of dollars to our local economy.

These workers deserve better.

Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, D-Las Vegas, is running for lieutenant governor.

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