Minimum wage bill moved to voting file

The Legislature discussed the minimum wage bill during its session today.

Bill 136-35, which seeks to raise Guam’s minimum wage to $9.25 by March 2021, has been moved to the voting file after lengthy discussions by lawmakers this morning.

According to Sen. Regine Biscoe-Lee, the rules committee chair, the measure already has the support of all 10 Democrat members in the Legislature and the legislation is expected to pass, with a majority of members from both parties supporting it.

“I hear the concerns of the business owners, but in fact, we hear these same concerns every time the minimum wage increases. The plain truth is, despite well intentioned and understandable objections, the actual impacts are never as bad as the predictions from those who stand in opposition,” Senator Lee said in a statement. “Information available about current wages also shows many jobs assumed to be low-paying, are already earning above today’s wage floor and the increased rate proposed by the bill before us.”

Senator Joe San Agustin, the bill’s primary author, said in his opening remarks on the legislation that those earning minimum wage are not just entry level workers.

“They include our veterans, persons with disabilities, and manamko’. They also include a disproportionate number of women, single mothers, and minorities. The unfortunate reality is many of our families live in poverty. A dollar raise over two years is a small step, but it may make a difference in the lives of so many,” San Agustin said.

Senator Jim Moylan rose in support of the measure and was the first lawmaker to proffer an amendment to the bill. The proposed language would establish a “Youth Minimum Wage” of $8.25 per hour—paid to employees under the age of 18 for no more than 90 consecutive days.

However, the change has some senators concerned.

“How do we justify to the employers an amendment that proposes to raise the present minimum wage for minors, for youth, from $4.20 as it currently stands on Guam, to $8.25? Has there been any thought or discussion about the impact or whether that will discourage anyone from in fact, hiring youth,” Senator Mary Torres asked.

Senator Amanda Shelton also opposed Moylan’s amendment which would allow employers to pay youth workers less than other workers for 90 days.

“I have many times been the youngest person in the room, and I don’t think I would appreciate being paid a lower wage than one of our colleagues. And so for young people who want to lift themselves up, who want to provide for their families—who want to make a better life for themselves, I don’t think that we should be legislating a lower wage for them,” said Sen. Shelton, who chairs the committee on the advancement of youth.

She added: “My parents wanted for me and my siblings to have a Catholic education in high school to help strengthen our relationship with God and grow in the faith. But they couldn’t pay for it, so we worked after school every day when we were teenagers to pay for tuition without burdening our parents and help them make ends meet. Many of our youth today step up to help support their families. We shouldn’t value them less. If it were not for small businesses owners who saw the value in me as a teenage employee and gave me a chance to work, I would not be where I am today. Our young people deserve equal pay for equal work so that they can invest in themselves, in their families and their future.”

Senator Moylan’s amendment ultimately did not garner enough votes to pass and Bill 136-35 was moved to the voting file.

Session resumes with continued deliberation on Bill No. 149-35 (COR). The measure, authored by Senator Clynt Ridgell, provides flexibility in financing and refinancing options for capital improvement projects at the Port Authority of Guam.