Commentary

Will House move to eliminate minimum wage and overtime protections for seasonal workers?

In a surprise move yesterday, the House Finance Committee voted to eliminate state minimum wage and overtime protections for certain seasonal workers and amusement park employees. But a glimmer of hope remains for workers after key Republicans on the panel pledged to address concerns over the minimum wage and the bill was kept off the House calendar for today.

As WRAL reported yesterday, the Committee debated a proposed committee substitute for SB 363, legislation that originally regulated food carts but was stripped and replaced by entirely new language that changed the state’s wage and hour laws for certain seasonal employees. Under the new version considered by the committee, employees of seasonal camps and amusement parks would no longer be eligible for minimum wage and overtime protections under North Carolina’s Wage and Hour Act—likely a response to the US Department of Labor’s recent announcement raising the eligibility of salaried overtime workers  from those earning $23,660 to $47,476 per year.

And since these workers are already exempted from federal protections—a loophole in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act created specifically to benefit circus operator Barnum & Bailey—the proposed change in the state’s law effectively ensures that these workers will no longer have any legal entitlement to earn a minimum wage or overtime.

Rep. Paul Luebke from Durham specifically raised concerns over the loss of minimum wage protections during debate, questioning why anyone would want to lower wages for workers at a time of historic middle class income stagnation. Over the course of the debate, it became clear that a number of Republican lawmakers shared these concerns over the minimum wage provision, while supporting the elimination of overtime for these particular workers. Ultimately, the committee passed the bill by voice vote, but key Republican leader Rep. Skip Stam agreed to address the minimum wage provision through a floor amendment next week—an important step forward.

The upshot is that seasonal camp and amusement park workers are almost certainly going to lose their overtime protections, but we’ll have to wait and see whether they’ll lose the right to earn a minimum wage as well.

But in either case, workers will earn lower wages than they do today, moving North Carolina’s economy in exactly the wrong direction. That’s because our economy does best when workers can afford the basics—earning enough to put food on the table, gas in the car, and a roof over their heads. And every dollar they spend on the basics is a dollar that goes into the pockets of local businesses as higher sales and more profits. In contrast, policies that cut wages only hurt businesses by reducing customers, sales, and profits.

So here’s hoping the general Assembly abandons its plans to cut wages and votes down SB 363, or at the very least maintains minimum wage protections for seasonal and amusement park workers.

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