Government

Senate Bill 311 Scuttles Local Wage, Worker Initiatives

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A bill signed into law last week by Gov. John Kasich likely overrides an amendment to the city charter that guaranteed rights for part-time workers as well as squelching future efforts by municipalities to set minimum wage rates higher than the state rate.

Senate Bill 311 contains provisions to prevent political subdivisions from setting minimum wage rates that differ from state law and “generally grants private employers exclusive authority to establish policies concerning hours and location of work, scheduling and fringe benefits, unless an exception applies.”

Ohio’s minimum wage is set to increase to $8.15 per hour on Jan. 1.

In Youngstown, a petition for a ballot initiative to establish a $10.10 hourly wage next year fell short of the required number of valid signatures. But an issue amending the city charter to establish a “part-time worker bill of rights” not only made the Nov. 8 ballot but also was approved by city voters.

The general rule is that if a law were applicable throughout the state then it would override the local ordinance, said Youngstown Law Director Martin Hume. He would not speculate on whether he anticipated any kind of challenge to the state law but said that City Council would have to determine whether it would move forward with appointing the commission called for under the local law to enforce the ordinance.

The Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber hailed Senate Bill 311 because it renders unenforceable the charter amendment governing part-time workers. The chamber predicted a “devastating impact” on restaurants, health-care providers, Youngstown State University and other city employers had it been allowed to take effect, Guy Coviello, vice president, government affairs, said in an email.

“It would have also had detrimental affects on the workers themselves,” he continued. “For example, student workers tend to rely on the flexibility of last-minute shift changes with their co-workers — think about all the times a kid gets a last-minute invitation to do something like go to a concert with a friend and wants to change shifts. That likely would have been lost.”

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce also praised the new law. Samantha Cotton, director of public policy communications for the Ohio Chamber, noted Ohio’s minimum wage is higher than the national average because of a constitutional amendment voters passed in 2006, tying it to the Consumer Price Index.

“We do not advocate for different cities having different minimum wages as we believe in allowing market forces to determine wages paid by employers,” she said.

She also warned of “drastic unintended consequences for the young, undereducated and those lacking prior work experience.” When wages are “artificially increased” because of government mandate or constitutional amendment, employers are forced to make tough choices.

“A higher minimum wage makes it less likely that employers will be able to hire and employ less-skilled and less-educated workers and many employees will simply be priced out of the job market,” she said. “A better approach would be to focus on the state’s workforce development and education efforts. Education and experience can provide a lifetime of opportunity and earning capacity rather than artificially raising the minimum wage for a short-term benefit.”

Bill Padisak, president of the Mahoning-Trumbull AFL-CIO Labor Council, criticized the action by Kasich and the Ohio General Assembly.

“It appalls me that this is what our governor and legislature think is important,” he said.

The $10.10 hourly wage was “more reasonable” than those proposed in other cities, Padisak said. The new state law also takes away benefits that part-time workers gained under the municipal legislation, including two weeks advanced notice of scheduling.

Other provisions of the city-passed bill of rights limited requirements for a part-time employee to be on call, gave proportional access to employer-provided benefits such as sick time and vacation time, and required employers to provide part-time workers with the same starting wage as hourly workers under specific conditions.

“This is the party that advocates local control,” Padisak said. “In this case, they did the exact opposite. They’re taking away the authority for local communities to decide what the minimum wage should be.”

Kasich is a Republican, and the GOP holds majorities in both houses of the Ohio Legislature.

“What scares me is that this could be foreboding,” given that the White House and both houses of Congress will be under GOP control beginning in January, Padisak continued. “What could be happening countrywide is scary.”

Jamael Tito Brown, vice-chairman of minority affairs for the Mahoning County Democratic Party and a member of the committee that gathered signatures for the minimum wage issue, also criticized Republicans for their hypocrisy on the local control issue. “They do what’s convenient for them at this time,” he said.

Brown anticipates “pushback,” including potentially from “national entities” coming into Ohio, against the new state law. He predicted 2018 would be a “critical year” for workers’ rights issues, with both the governor’s race and a U.S. Senate seat on the ballot.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.