Mayor Murray statement on subminimum ‘training wages’

Mayor Murray released the follow statement this evening regarding subminimum “training wages”:

“During the course of negotiations by my Income Inequality Advisory Committee — comprised of members of business, labor, and nonprofits — a key area of consensus emerged: where possible, rely on state statute to resolve potentially contentious issues. Having this established precedent—the state’s minimum wage law—helped IIAC members find common ground and avoid re-litigating many issues that could have fractured the historic compromise they reached.

One such area of contention was training wages. Some business representatives wanted to explore the concept. Labor representatives were opposed. This issue could have deadlocked the Committee, but during the drafting process the members agreed to look to the State Minimum Wage Act.

The result is that no ‘training wage’ is included in my proposal. And I am glad for this. A training wage is not something I endorse and is not part of this deal.

However, there is a little used provision in the state law that allows for a subminimum wage in limited circumstances. For example, individuals whose earning capacity is impaired by physical or mental deficiency may be eligible. It also provides that subminimum wages could be allowed for qualified registered apprenticeship programs and student earner programs. Such exceptions, called “certificates,” are only issued by the state after a rigorous application process. The state, for example, looks at if such certificates will create unfair competitive labor costs or depress wages, and ensures workers will not be kept at training wages for prolonged periods. While this threshold is difficult to meet, there is a path available for those who can truly demonstrate great need and sufficient worker protections.

Labor representatives would prefer that the ordinance not contain any exceptions to allow subminimum wage, and I understand their skepticism. However, after reviewing my legislation (and being assured that it is narrowly tailored with criteria to ensure the wages of other workers were protected), they signed-off. They understood that this deal is the result of a careful balance of needs and interests and that adhering to that guiding principle of state law was important, even when it was difficult. For that, I am appreciative.”