A floor under all workers
The federal minimum wage, established in the 1930s, has functioned as an important part of the U.S. economy for nearly 75 years. It rests on the principle that work deserves to be valued and does so by establishing a wage floor under all workers.
The minimum wage, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), “helps to equalize the imbalance in bargaining power that low-wage workers face in the labor market. “
The Equality State Policy Center believes that Wyoming should value the work of its people and insist on a minimum wage that enables full-time workers to meet their basic needs. Today, a fulltime job at the existing federal minimum wage ($7.25/hour) generates approximately $15,000/year in gross pay, which does not provide a self-sufficiency income for even one person in most of Wyoming. With two parents working fulltime, minimum wage jobs fall far short of a self-sufficiency income for a family.
The situation is even worse for tipped employees. Wyoming’s minimum wage for tipped employees is only $2.13/hour with a “tip offset” – that is, the employer is supposed to make up the difference between $2.13/hour and the minimum wage if the tips earned are not sufficient. In most cases, that means the employer must make up the difference between the employee’s base pay plus tips and the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour. (Any business not covered by federal minimum wage law but covered by the state statute would have to pay the difference between the employee’s base pay plus tips and the state minimum wage of $5.15/hr.)
The state Labor Standards Program enforces wage standards in Wyoming, but does so only when an employee files a complaint. This rarely occurs because employees fear a complaint will cost their jobs.
In 2011, a bill to allow confidential investigations and enforce payment of the tip offset was narrowly defeated by the House Labor, Health and Social Services Committee. The confidentiality clause shielded employees from retaliation. The proposal’s penalties section would have held employers found in violation of the minimum wage law “liable for three (3) times the amount due, but in no case less than one hundred dollars ($100.00), plus court costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.”
In the long-term, the Equality State Policy Center believes the state should raise the minimum wage at least to the level of self-sufficiency, meaning the worker would earn enough to provide the basic necessities of life. To maintain its positive effect on the economy and low-wage workers, the minimum wage should be pegged to the average hourly wage of production and nonsupervisory workers on private nonfarm payrolls, a move that the EPI says “captures broad changes in the living standards of the typical worker.”