Some Nebraska workers would earn less than minimum wage if new bill passes

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) — Nebraskans weighed in on a proposal on Monday that would allow companies to pay younger, inexperienced workers less than minimum wage.

Senator Tom Briese of Albion introduced Bill 15.

His measure would alter the voter-approved initiative that passed last year, garnering nearly 59% of the vote.

Nebraska Initiative 433 is gradually increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2026.

“Youth workers are generally in entry-level positions,” Briese said during the hearing. “A lot of our small businesses can’t afford to pay the minimum required for these entry-level jobs. This creates financial hardship for our small businesses or forces young people out of the labor market.

Briese’s bill would create separate rules for employees ages 14 to 17, who would only earn $10 an hour by 2026.

It would also set a minimum training wage for employees aged 18 to 20. They would also only earn $10 per hour that same year.

Shannon McCord, owner of Ideal Market in Superior, said without this bill, small businesses could be forced to close.

“I fear for all the rural communities that depend on grocery stores to supply them with meats and fresh produce,” McCord said. “I fear for their main streets which depend on them to prevent people from going out of town to do their shopping every other day. I’m afraid for people who can’t get out of town. I fear for the future of our rural community.

Those who oppose LB 15 have said young workers will be exploited.

Others said it creates an ethical dilemma because it discriminates against workers based on their age.

“You get paid for your work, not necessarily for your age,” said Felicia Hilton of the North Central State Carpenters Regional Council. “And I think it’s a slippery slope to start determining people’s salaries based on their age.”

Senator Terrell McKinney, a member of the Business and Labor Committee, heard testimony during the hearing.

One of his main concerns was for his young constituents who are working to help support their families and save for their future.

Emma Haar, a 15-year-old from Grand Island, shared her own experience as a young worker.

“My family and I live in poverty, so I have to help my family with the bills, and I’m also responsible for costs that are part of my school and extracurricular activities,” Haar said.

She said she spends almost all the money from her two jobs on essentials, without much savings for college.

“This bill treats me like a child when I have the responsibilities of an adult,” she said.

The committee did not vote on LB 15 on Monday.

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