States Legislatures Offer Varied Measures For Regulating Minimum Wage Requirements

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By Caitlin E. Reilly

Recently enacted state laws that regulate minimum wages highlight a medley of legislative changes that have left a patchwork of approaches across the country.

The $7.25 federal hourly minimum wage was last changed in 2009, but some states and cities have established their own wage and benefit requirements. In other states, the establishment of city and county wages led to state legislatures seeking to curtail those requirements.

The first $15 statewide hourly minimum wages were signed April 4 by California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

The California law was a compromise proposed by Brown to head off two competing union-backed ballot measures that would have increased the hourly minimum wage to $15 a few years earlier. The state’s minimum wage is to reach $15 an hour for all employees in 2023.

Several California cities embraced the $15 hourly minimum wage earlier than the state government. Six cities and counties in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas scheduled minimum wage increases that are to reach $15 two or three years earlier than when the state’s $15 wage takes effect.

Under a budget deal, New York minimum wage increases are to follow a tiered, regional schedule like the one adopted in Oregon in March and the one established for New York fast-food workers by a state wage order in 2015.

Like the Oregon law, the New York wage plan is to create regional minimum wages that would rise at different rates. The wages would increase statewide Dec. 31, 2016, but at different levels depending on the region.

The minimum wage is to reach $15 first for large employers in New York City by the end of 2018 and for small employers in the city by end of 2019. The employers in counties surrounding New York City are to be required to provide a $15 hourly minimum wage by the end of 2021. The plan does not include a time frame for the minimum hourly wage to reach $15 in the rest of the state.

Some States Ban Local Requirements

While some states seek to establish regional minimum wages, others ban local deviations from state requirements.

The Fight for $15, a nonprofit campaign receiving financial support from the Service Employees International Union, has gained popularity in city councils. More than 30 cities and counties have established their own minimum wage requirements, with some of them being banned by the state legislatures.

Alabama, Idaho and North Carolina passed laws banning local minimum wages in 2016. Virginia’s legislature passed a similar bill that was vetoed March 25 by Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D).

In Alabama and North Carolina, the bans preempted local laws already in effect, which could lead to court battles.