For some, 2013 is already promising to be a better year. Ten states increased the minimum wage rate on January 1st, joining the nine (and the District of Columbia) other states that currently have wage rates higher than the $7.25/hour federal minimum. Wage and hour attorneys commend the efforts of these states that are making fair employment a priority.
The ten most recent states raising minimum wage rates are: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. The rates will increase by anywhere from 10 to 35 cents. In most states, this increase is part of routine modifications imposed to keep up with inflation and growing costs of living. States are given the ability to set their own minimum wages, which makes for uneven pay rates in some regions. Washington State, for example, increased its minimum to $9.19/hour on January 1st, which is nearly $2 more than the neighboring Idaho minimum.
Nearly one million Americans will benefit from this wage increase, putting an extra $190 to $510 into the pockets of low-paid workers each year. According to NPR, more than 40 states will consider raising their minimum wages in the coming year, and advocates in Congress are seriously considered a proposal that will raise the federal minimum by $2. Realistically, Democrats will have to compromise with Republicans and the number will more than likely drop to around $1.
Many are arguing that raising the minimum wage raises the bar for employee expectations. In contrast, some are arguing that higher wages will force independent businesses to stop or slow hiring, which will harm young workers looking for hourly wage jobs.
Although labor advocates are thrilled over this recent legislation, the issue of whether internships should require payment is still up in the air. An ABC News story highlights the growing debate over unpaid internships, which have been the subject of numerous high-profile lawsuits recently. In December, New York’s Supreme Court ordered a television production company to pay up to $250,000 in a class action settlement. The lawsuit was filed by former Charlie Rose Show interns who claimed that, although they all agreed to an unpaid internship, they should have been paid because they performed the same work as salaried employees. The plaintiffs also argued that their duties did not fulfill any educational purpose.
Several high-profile companies have similar intern lawsuits pending, including Fox Entertainment and the Hearst Corporation. Hundreds of thousands of Americans work in unpaid internships every year, and labor advocates are asserting that employers are knowingly violating labor laws by allowing unpaid interns to do the same tasks as paid workers, and by failing to provide adequate educational experience. Amid threats from the Labor Department, some companies did ultimately change their compensation policies, such as Fox Entertainment and Conde Nast, which now offer stipends or pay minimum hourly wages.
While some companies are agreeing to pay interns minimum wage, other are simply eliminating or significantly reducing internship programs. Some are arguing that certain employers are now unwilling to offer programs based on academic credit to avoid potential lawsuits, and college students will miss out on important experience because of it. Others claim it will weed out companies that offer internships that are intentionally exploitative.
Officials in California and Oregon (among other states), concerned of such exploitation, began investigating and fining employers that were using unpaid internships as free labor. In light of such measures, the Labor Department is stepping up internship enforcement nationwide.
Wage and hour lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm recognize that minimum wage and unpaid internship issues should be a top priority for state and federal labor departments. If you or someone close to you is suffering from unfair employment practices, consider seeking legal advice from a skilled and experienced wage attorney.