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March 30, 2015 06:30 PM

City Of Aberdeen Discussing Youth Minimum Wage

Aberdeen, SD

City council members in Aberdeen will consider a resolution to pay all city employees the adult minimum wage regardless of the employee’s age.

South Dakota voters decided in November to increase the minimum wage to $8.50 per hour. That rate will increase along with inflation. The Governor signed a bill into law this month setting a youth minimum wage at $7.50 per hour. That minimum applies to workers less than 18 years old.

Aberdeen Mayor Mike Levsen is asking the city council to pass a resolution stating that Aberdeen should not pay anyone below the adult minimum wage. It only applies to city employees so other employers in the city would still have that option.

“The legislature had the option of changing that and that’s fine but my preference would be that we not do that,” Levsen said.

Council members will discuss the issue next week. The resolution was on Monday’s agenda but they pushed it back a week. A member who wanted to participate in the discussion was absent, council member Rob Ronayne said.

Levsen says people in Aberdeen have asked him if the city will pay teenagers the new youth minimum wage.

"My response was as mayor I wouldn't want to see that because I thought the voters were very clear that they wanted everybody to get $8.50," Levsen said.

More than 60 percent of Brown County voters supported a minimum wage increase in November, but some argue the campaign supporting that measure focused on adult workers.

Council member Todd Campbell said he wants to hear from state lawmakers at next week’s meeting to understand why they passed a youth minimum wage.

Sen. David Novstrup, R-Aberdeen, sponsored the youth minimum wage bill. He argues a youth minimum wage benefits teens because it'll give them more opportunities.

If the minimum wage continues to increase for everyone, he says, employers will be less likely to hire people under 18 because they don't have as much experience. To pay someone more, Novstrup argues, employers need them to have experience.

Aberdeen's human resources director Alan Ruhlman says the city is already paying everyone $8.50 per hour or more and compensates by position, not age. Offering any less money, he says, would probably lead to unfilled positions.

"I really think it would be difficult to do that. We have a lot of competition out there," Ruhlman said.

Levsen calls the resolution a matter of principle. He also wants it to drive policy as the minimum wage increases along with inflation.

“This wouldn’t have any affect now because I think everyone’s making $8.50 or more now,” Levsen said. “But I think it's important to establish the concept that as a city government and as a significant employer of people under 18, we are not going to discount the salaries of those people just because they're younger than 18."

Novstrup says he's fine with the city paying $8.50 or more to all its employees. He also says he’d be disappointed if anyone with the city is trying to make a political statement through the resolution.

Levsen says the resolution is not political, nor is it meant to be a criticism of state lawmakers.

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