CHARLESTON - The West Virginia Finance Committee voted Wednesday to water down a house bill that would raise the minimum wage, proposing it be raised by $1.50 over three years instead of two.
Under the bill amended Wednesday, the wage would increase from $7.25 to $7.50 an hour in January 2015, to $8 in January 2016, and $8.75 in January 2017. Originally the House approved a bill that would raise the minimum wage 75 cents each year over two years.
Senator John Unger, D-Berkeley, opposed the amendment. He said minimum wage workers will lose out on $1,040 in potential earnings in 2015 and another $520 the following year.
Janet Vineyard, president of the state's oil marketers and grocers association, indicated she wasn't for raising the minimum wage, but said she would support the bill if amended to raise wages over three years.
"Starting with a 25 cent raise doesn't shock us so much. When you raise minimum wage, everyone else thinks they need a raise," she said.
Raymona Kinneberg, a lobbyist representing ResCare, said raising the minimum wage would affect Medicare and other benefit programs. She said raising the standard more drastically than 25 cents would cause families to fall out of the programs, which provide them with more support than the wage raise would compensate for.
Unger asked if the alternative would be to keep minimum wage workers poor so they can keep their benefits. "This shows the system is broken," he said.
John Junkins, acting commissioner for the West Virginia Division of Labor, said the department didn't have an issue with the original proposal to raise wages across two years. "Take into consideration that $7.25 in today's society isn't much for a sole supporter to support their family on. Anything that can be done to help people in minimum wage jobs would be great."
Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, noted that while Junkins spoke in favor of wage workers' interests, he was an administrator. Barnes asked for someone representing labor unions to speak to the amendment, but no labor representatives were present.
"As I sit here and think about this, we are the people who should protect the working man," said Senator Douglas Facemire, a Democrat from Braxton. "Vote your conscience. These people have no protection. They are out here trying to go to work every day and trying to carve out a living for themselves and their families."
Roman Prezioso, committee chairman and a Democrat from Marion, said the amendment was developed with input from various groups, including labor and business.
The bill will now move to the Senate floor for action.