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Minimum-wage issue is lauded, attacked



Published: Sat, October 28, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Voters are being asked to raise the minimum wage to 6.85 an hour.

By DON SHILLING

VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR

It's not often someone has the chance to vote themselves a raise.

Thousands of Mahoning Valley residents will have that chance Nov. 7 when they vote on state Issue 2, which would raise the minimum wage in Ohio from 5.15 an hour to 6.85 an hour. The measure also would revise the pay rate annually, adjusting it for inflation.

Not only would people now making less than 6.85 receive a raise if the issue passes, but so would others, supporters said. They expect people making up to about 8.35 an hour would see pay increases as the people on lower pay scales are paid more.

Policy Matters Ohio estimates that about 32,500 people in Mahoning and Trumbull counties would receive raises next year if Issue 2 passes. It had no estimated for Columbiana County.

The estimate from the Cleveland-based research group includes those making under 6.85 an hour and those benefiting from a "spillover effect." It used U.S. Census data for its estimate.

Statewide, it estimated that passage would increase pay for 279,000 people making under the proposed minimum wage and for 423,000 people who would feel the spillover effect.

Part of national campaign

The ballot issue is part of a national campaign by organized labor and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN. The groups have been pushing for higher minimum-wage laws across the country and have ballot issues pending in three other states besides Ohio.

The groups seek to amend the Ohio constitution with Issue 2 because attempts to enact a higher minimum wage through the state Legislature have failed.

The need for a higher minimum wage is obvious, said Larry Fauver, executive director of the Mahoning-Trumbull AFL-CIO, who has been campaigning on the issue.

"It is a shame that we have people in this country working for 5.15 an hour," he said.

Businesses will pass along their higher labor costs to consumers, but the economies of local communities will be better in the long run because workers will have more money to spend, he said.

Taking a different view is Ty Pines, state director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

In today's competitive environment, many businesses can't raise prices to cover increased costs, he said. To pay low-wage workers more, businesses will have to find the money through such means as reducing health-care benefits or cutting raises for higher-paid workers, he said.

There are better ways to help low-wage workers, such as making changes in the tax code or providing more job training, Pines said.

Both sides make claims about who the increased wage would help.

Statistics

Ohio Policy Matters said its studies show that 74 percent of those who would receive a pay increase from the ballot issue or the spillover effect are at least 20 years old and 20 percent are parents. Thirty-eight percent of those affected provide the entire family weekly earnings, the group said.

On the other side, Issue 2 opponents said that the average annual income for homes with a minimum wage worker is 52,000 and two-thirds of minimum wage workers are under 24.

Fighting the issue is Ohioans to Protect Personal Privacy, a group business and trade groups. As its name suggests, the coalition is attacking Issue 2 by saying it would open individual payroll records to public view.

Its argument is based on a phrase in the proposed amendment that says payroll records must be open to an employee or "person acting on behalf of an employee."

Pines, who is chairman of the coalition, said this phrase could be interpreted to mean that unions, business associations and lawyers pursuing class-action lawsuits could demand payroll records. Available would be addresses, pay rates and hours worked.

Pines said all of the above groups could be construed as working "on behalf" of an employee. The issue's supporters could have avoided this ambiguity by saying an authorized or designed person, he said.

Another stance

Tim Burga, government relations director for the Ohio AFL-CIO, called the privacy concerns "a smokescreen to take away from the issue of raising the minimum wage."

Burga's stance is supported by Peter Swire, a law professor at Ohio State University, who issued a report recently on the privacy issue after being asked for his opinion by reporters and business managers.

Swire, who is a privacy law expert, said that the claim that payroll records would become public is "contrary to law and shows an ignorance of actual privacy law." Courts would interpret the language to mean lawyers or family members who are personally representing an employee, he said.

shilling@vindy.com




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