A bill cosponsored by Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis, during the 2019 Legislative Session would enable Oregon farmers to better hire younger workers by allowing a training wage during the first three months that would be exempt from the state minimum wage (which is among the highest in the nation). High minimum wage laws can have the adverse effect of increasing youth employment. As Oregon minimum wage increased yet again this summer, many farmers are looking for helpful solutions.
The 2016 Oregon Legislature established a three-tiered minimum wage that has increased every July 1 and will continue to do so until 2023. The standard wage of $10.75 an hour in 2018 increased to $11.25 an hour July 1, 2019. In the Portland metro area, the minimum wage jumped to $12.50 an hour, and for non-urban counties it’s now $11 an hour.
That puts Oregon farmers at a disadvantage when competing to sell crops, seeds, and other produce nationally and internationally when their counterparts in Idaho pay only the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. It also makes it harder to hire young workers who often require more first-time training and have a higher leave rate than workers a few years older. This comes at a time when the nation is suffering a generational gap in farming. New, younger workers are sorely needed to keep family farms alive.
To alleviate the burden, Reps. Boshart Davis and Representative Bill Post sought to let farmers pay a lower minimum wage to teenagers who can pick strawberries or buck hay but don’t need to support families.
House Bill 2296 would allow farmers to pay 85 percent of minimum wage to agricultural workers under 21 for the first 90 days on the job. That means teenagers could be paid $9.35 instead of $11 an hour. Critics contend that any alleviation of minimum wage laws are not needed and that even young workers need family wage pay to help pay off student loans and start a family.
After the measure was introduced in the House of Representatives, it was referred to the Business and Labor Committee, where it remained when the Legislature adjourned June 30.