Activists protest Arizona bill to pay some young people less than minimum wage

Young people who work to support themselves and their families would be harmed by a proposal to let employers pay them less than the state minimum wage, activists at the Arizona Capitol said on Tuesday.

House Bill 2523 from Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, would allow businesses to pay the lower federal minimum wage to part-time workers younger than 22 if they also are full-time students. He believes the change will create more jobs.

The federal minimum is $7.25 an hour and still used in 21 states, compared with the Arizona minimum wage of $11 this year.

“Not only is it traumatic, but it is unjust,” 18-year-old Brenda Alvarez of Mesa said while surrounded by about 60 supporters, including many from the group LUCHA, or Living United for Change in Arizona.

“Not only is it traumatic, but it is unjust.”

Brenda Alvarez, 18

Alvarez, a senior at Westwood High School who is taking classes at Mesa Community College, has lived with various family members since her parents were deported in 2012, and she now works part time in retail, she said.

She has earned enough to get her own studio apartment, but money is tight, she said. If the bill passed and she had to take a pay cut it could put her on the street, she said.

“If this bill moves forward … not only would it be harder to continue to focus on my education, but this will make it harder for me to build a life and the vision of the future that I have for myself,” she said. “This should be about young people being able to have a living wage.”

Stephanie Maldonado, an organizer with the group called LUCHA, or Living United for Change in Arizona, speaks at the state Capitol on Tuesday, March 12, 2019. (Photo: Ryan Randazzo/Arizona Republic)

Bill targets those younger than 22

Grantham’s bill would let businesses pay the federal minimum wage and negotiate other work arrangements with people younger than 22, who are working on a “casual basis” and who are enrolled as full-time students.

The bill defines “casual basis” as people who work no more than 20 hours a week or who might work more than 20 hours a week, but not regularly or only for intermittent periods.

RELATED: Roberts: House ignores voters, OKs slashing minimum wage for students

The rally against the proposal comes two days before a scheduled hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday. The bill passed the House on a 31–29 party-line vote Feb. 28. Democrats have opposed the measure.

Grantham said his bill will help some businesses that can’t afford to hire part-time workers due to the minimum wage requirements. He said they employ fewer people than they would with the ability to pay lower wages.

“I really did take this effort on to try to create a little bit of a relief valve if you will for people who are unable to get part-time employment”

Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, during a previous hearing

“I really did take this effort on to try to create a little bit of a relief valve if you will for people who are unable to get part-time employment because of what has become a barrier to entry,” Grantham said during a previous hearing on the bill.

“This gives a restaurant or a bar … now they can actually afford to hire somebody.”

The state’s minimum wage for waiters, bartenders, valets, hair stylists and other tipped employees is less, provided these workers earn at least the regular rate for all hours that they work when tips are included.

But opponents of the measure said Tuesday that lawmakers risk alienating voters if they approve the measure.

Josh Ulilbarri is a partner in Lake Research Partners, which is working for the coalition of groups opposed to the bill. The firm surveyed voters about the bill in three Republican Legislative districts in the state, 20 (northwest Phoenix/Glendale), 25 (Mesa) and 28 (Phoenix/Paradise Valley).

Ulibarri said results of the March 5–7 telephone poll of 500 people who voted in both 2016 and 2018 showed voters think the measure is unfair and that they would be less likely to vote for a lawmaker who votes for the bill.

That held true even for Republicans, he said, with 32 percent saying they would be less likely to re-elect a candidate who supports the measure, he said. The poll’s margin of error was 4 percentage points.

“They are telling these Republicans not to do this,” Ulibarri said.

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Voters approved wages in ‘16

Opponents also say the bill, if signed into law, violates the voter-protected wages Arizonans approved in 2016.

Proposition 206, the Fair Wages and Healthy Families Act, passed easily in November 2016, garnering 59 percent of the votes cast. It raises the state’s minimum wage to $12 in 2020 from $8.05 in 2016. It rose to $10 in 2017, $10.50 in 2018 and $11 this year.

It also required a minimum amount of paid sick leave beginning in July 2017 — generally starting at five days off each year for workers at larger employers.

Jon Riches, director of national litigation for the Goldwater Institute, previously said the bill would not violate the Voter Protection Act because it doesn’t change the minimum-wage increases voters approved in 2016. It simply creates a new classification of workers.

He also said that the 2016 Fair Wages and Healthy Families Act was meant forpeople who work 40 hours a week who had families, and that most college students don’t have families.

In addition to the Goldwater Institute, the bill has the support of conservative think tanks, the National Federation of Independent Businesses and various chambers of commerce, including in Flagstaff, where voters in 2016 approved a minimum wage of $12 and $9 for tipped employees, with increases set for the next few years.



Creosote Partners is an Arizona firm focused on legislative advocacy, coalition building, and strategic communications.

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Creosote Partners

Creosote Partners is an Arizona firm focused on legislative advocacy, coalition building, and strategic communications.