On January 1, 13 states decided to take matters into their own hands and raise the minimum wage above the federal floor of $7.25 an hour. But even as state governments hurry to usher in these changes, some states aren't acting quickly enough for county and city politicians, who are enacting changes at the local level. The debates are even drilling down into particular industries.
No sooner had a bill passed the St. George's County Council in Maryland (which raises the minimum wage to $11.50 by 2017) than a council member introduced an exemption amendment for Six Flags employees. The amusement park is the largest employer of seasonal workers in that region, hiring a whopping 2,300 temporary employees every summer.
In an interview with the Washington Post, that council member, Derrick Leon Davis said, "These aren’t family-wage jobs, which the minimum wage is attempting to create. These are bridge opportunities for kids who are in college or high school."
Opponents of the exemption say that the demographics of low-wage workers are in flux, so the argument that the jobs are intended for teenagers doesn't hold much water. More adults are taking seasonal and low-wage jobs than ever. And while Six Flags' career site speaks directly to high school and college students, it also tries to recruit homemakers, retirees, coaches, and teachers, and shows a diverse range of ages in its promotional materials.
Many are surprised to learn that Davis is a democrat, though reportedly he waited for the bill to pass before raising the delicate Six Flags issue. He seems to be piggybacking on an existing county clause wherein employers are not forced to pay the newly raised wage to workers under 19 who work less than 20 hours a week. (There is also currently a federal exemption for amusement parks that rely on seasonal workers).
While Davis seems keen to keep Six Flags viable, it's unclear to what extent the company lobbied for special treatment. Six Flags has pointed out that their profitability is more vulnerable since it operates within a narrow three-month window every year. They're also on rockier foundation, having filed for bankruptcy in 2009.
Davis's fellow council members fear the possibility of a slippery slope when it comes to the minimum wage, though Davis has said he would not consider exemptions for any other type of business.
“Once Six Flags asks, a number of other entities or companies may ask as well with their own unique set of circumstances,” said Council chairman Mel Franklin in an interview with the Washington Times. “You could find a number of unique scenarios out there and you have to be careful to guard the integrity of the law.”