Businesses: Cut state wages

Dotty’s neighborhood casinos and other businesses have gone to court to have Nevada’s minimum wage law declared unconstitutional, which would have the effect of lowering the Nevada minimum wage by a dollar.

Other Nevada businesses that are parties to the lawsuit are Landry's Inc., Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Laughlin River Lodge and Hoover Dam Lodge.

They seek to overturn on federal constitutional grounds the language in the state constitution that requires Nevada wages be a dollar above the national minimum wage set by Congress. Because Congress has been reluctant to keep the minimum at the level of inflation, in real dollar terms the congressional minimum has been losing value for 47 years.

The relatively new state law, placed on the ballot by initiative petition, called Question 6, was approved by Nevadans in 2006, 68.71 to 31.29 percent. Among the claims made by the litigant:

• “Question 6, however, went far beyond simply raising the minimum wage and altering the manner in which the minimum wage would be calculated. Indeed, the proposed amendment's terms introduced a ‘health benefits' component that would dictate the type of health plan an employer would be required to offer to its employees.”

This appears to refer to a provision in the new law that allows businesses to avoid paying higher minimums if they provide health insurance to their workers. It does not “dictate” that they provide health insurance.

•“Moreover, the Amendment does not authorize the Labor Commissioner to regulate or enforce its provisions. Rather, it merely states, “The Governor or the State agency designated by the Governor shall publish a bulletin by April 1 of each year announcing the adjusted rates.”

Even if this is true, the Nevada Legislature has enacted statutes empowering the labor commissioner to enforce the minimum wage, such as Nevada Revised Statutes 608.180 and 608.250.

An effort to stop state government from enforcing the Nevada minimum competes with lawsuits already in court charging that the state fails to do so (“Minimum enforcement,” RN&R, May 29, 2014) and seeking court orders to require such enforcement.

Bradley Schrager, one of the attorneys who filed those lawsuits, responded to the new suit:

“The Nevada Constitution allows employers the privilege of paying down to $7.25 an hour, from $8.25, if their employees are provided health insurance. But the plaintiffs in this suit are contending they are forcibly regulated with confusing and burdensome rules. That's just not true. No one forces Landry's or Dotty's to do anything in this regard. They submit themselves, voluntarily, to these rules because they want to find ways to pay their employee the absolute bare minimum. They could always choose to pay the full Nevada minimum wage off $8.25 per hour, and never worry about regulations or compliance at all. From what we can tell from ongoing lawsuits, however, what employers like Landry's and Dotty's really want is to not have to be responsible for either the full wage or health insurance, and that is what this suit is really about.”

Schrager and attorney Don Springmeyer filed their 2014 suits that name several companies they said were not complying with the law or were claiming the health insurance exemption without providing the insurance. They further charged that the Sandoval administration was failing to enforce the law.

The issue of wages became more sensitive after this year's Legislature, where Republicans succeeded in ending the payment of the prevailing wage in the area of a taxpayer-funded school construction project. The measure was later amended, but still puts school construction wages lower than other public works.

Democrats have tried to make an issue of wages, but haven't gotten much traction. In March, state Democratic publicist Zach Taylor attacked state GOP legislators for protecting corporations that “have been cheating Nevada workers out of the full minimum wage without offering any semblance of adequate health insurance.”