Teenagers, athletes, and the minimum wage

On Tuesday, the House passed HB 1355, which would increase the state minimum wage to $12. (See our special report for more.) As Jim Camden of the Spokesman-Review notes,

House Republicans tried repeatedly to change the bill, offering 13 amendments for things like lower teen wages, taking a longer look at inflation or varying the wage around the state to account for differences between the boom economy of the Central Puget Sound and high unemployment in some rural areas. Most were ruled outside the scope of the bill by House Speaker Frank Chopp and didn’t receive a vote; the few that did were rejected on partisan splits.

In the Senate, SB 5422, which would allow employers to pay teenagers at a rate of 85 percent of the minimum wage, was passed by the Commerce and Labor Committee last month.

Meanwhile, HB 1930 would essentially exempt the Western Hockey League from state labor laws — including the minimum wage. Washington has four teams in the league, and they are currently being investigated by L&I on child labor grounds. (Here’s some background.) I have no opinion on whether these athletes should be treated as amateurs or employees, but I do think the bill presents an interesting contrast to the teen training wage bill.

HB 1930 was passed unanimously by the House Labor Committee. The Seattle Times quoted House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan:

“Those are students who decide they want to participate in the Western Hockey League, they choose that pathway for themselves,” Sullivan said, later adding: “I think the system actually works pretty well.”

Another Seattle Times story notes,

Some of Washington’s prominent Democratic labor leaders have supported the proposed exemption. Sells, the House Labor Committee chairman, and Labor Committee member Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, are among the lawmakers signed on to the bill.

“This is something that will maintain opportunities for our amateur athletes and help them advance their careers,” said state Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, a bill sponsor. “I think it’s a pretty strong collection of folks from those (organized labor) areas who are collectively saying we don’t want to take anything away.”

Six sponsors of HB 1930 and its Senate companion also sponsored bills to raise Washington’s minimum wage.

Seems to be a bit of a disconnect here. If requiring the league to do things like pay the minimum wage would reduce opportunities for the players and hinder their career advancement, what happens to the prospects of non-elite-athlete teenagers if the costs of hiring them rise?