Employers support grocery, restaurant training bill

Worker stocking fruit in grocery store
Employers are indicating a need for HB 2830, which would help lessen the burden of an increased minimum wage while still allowing them to train young people to succeed in the workplace. Photo: Senior Airman Kaleb Snay

Business representatives are touting HB 2830 as way to increase training opportunities within restaurants and grocery stores across the state, saying the measure allows employers to further their efforts to train young people to fill jobs in those sectors and other industries.

HB 2830 would expand employment opportunity training programs for restaurants and grocery stores. The prime sponsor is State Rep. Carolyn Eslick (R-39), and cosponsors include State Reps. Liz Pike (R-18), Dan Griffey (R-35) and Luanne Van Werven (R-42).

During a January 29 House Labor and Workplace Standards public hearing, Eslick told colleagues that she recognizes the need for her bill in those industries, as she was a restaurant owner in the city of Sultan for 20 years. In the 1990s, the state legislature began increasing the minimum wage annually, and she had to raise wages for busboys, dishwashers and waitresses in response. However, every time the minimum wage employees got a bump, the chefs lobbied for the same wages.

“It seems easy enough that when wages are increased that you would raise prices on menus. Well, it isn’t that easy because you can price yourself right out of the market…” said Eslick. “I’m asking for a small relief for our grocery stores and our restaurants in rural areas.

“They need the help,” she continued. “The net profits on both of those industries are so small that every time there is an increase, it takes a huge hit for them.”

The bill would require the Director of the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) to create and allow the distribution of special training certificates which would allow employees within their training period to earn 75 percent of the state or federal minimum wage. These would only apply to employees working at a restaurant or grocery store.

The certificates may be used for training periods lasting up to 680 hours of work and for employees either 25 years old or younger or those reentering the workforce after five years of unemployment. An employer may only have up to 10 percent of his or her employees working under the certificates. The bill also includes provisions on what to do should an employee receiving benefits from the credentials leave the company.

Jan Gee, CEO and President of the Washington Food Industry Association (WFIA), told panel members: “Our supermarkets are a gateway for entry-level, on-the-job training positions that can lead to some great careers in our industry.”

According to Gee, the independent grocery industry has the lowest profit margin out of any industry in the state, at 1 to 1.5 percent. The bill would work to lessen this burden, she added.

“You can imagine with the low profit and the increasing minimum wage that a lot of those entry level jobs are disappearing.”

According to Gee, the grocery industry hosts an educational foundation that takes entry-level employees and pays for all, or most, of their community college tuition so they can obtain their retail management certificates. She added that this prepares them so that employers can move them up through the ranks.

“There are so many opportunities in our industry and we prepare a lot of people for other industries.”

However, Samantha Grad, Political and Legislative Organizer for United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 21, took a different view, claiming it would cost workers.

“For the majority of jobs in the grocery industry, the amount of training needed to be proficient at your job is substantially lower than the proposed 680 hours. Having such a lengthy training period and continuing to keep workers classified as a trainee in that time means that workers are being paid less.”

Sheila Ashe, owner of the Darrington IGA supermarket, spoke to the benefit her business brings to local youth, and how the bill would further those opportunities.

“We provide them with work experience: the experience of holding down a job, learning responsibility, commitment, customer service and the value of hard work,” she told panel members. “Most of those who we employed in their youth refer to us as ‘IGA University,’ the place where they were, in a sense, able to start on becoming good employees or entrepreneurs.”

Ashe added that her business considers the cost of training young workers, however, as a small store in a small town, the store’s profit margins are easily affected by new laws or regulations.

“The cost of training just one person is really a double cost to us,” she said. “We pay the new person because we have to pay someone else to train them.”

Last year, the business’ payroll rose $17,000 and the store’s man hours went down 1,000 hours. Ashe said she projects an additional $30,000 cost with the new minimum wage and the paid time off and sick leave.

“With the new minimum wage, we have serious discussion as to whether or not it is economical for us to take the extra time it takes to train youth. Most have none to minimal experience.”

“That’s why we like the bill…it will give us the incentive to keep training our youth with the qualities they can use once they move on to bigger and better things.”

HB 2830 is not currently scheduled for additional hearings or executive action.

 

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