Wyoming Democrats push for repeal of unpaid-wages bill

2013-04-22T23:45:00Z Wyoming Democrats push for repeal of unpaid-wages billBy JOAN BARRON Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
April 22, 2013 11:45 pm  • 

CHEYENNE -- The state Democratic party's Central Committee will push a ballot referendum to repeal a new law on payment of unpaid wages on grounds it is detrimental to Wyoming employees.

House Bill 79 was sponsored by Rep. Tim Stubson, R-Casper, and is known as the "Collection of Unpaid Wages" bill.

The bill changed the statute that authorized the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services to determine and collect claims for unpaid wages on behalf of employees.

It changed the definition of wages to exclude the value of vacation time accrued at the time of an employee's termination if the employer's written policies provide for forfeiture of accrued vacation upon termination, and those policies are acknowledged in writing by the employee.

The bill passed the House 45-14 and the Senate 19-11, with Democrats in both houses voting no.

Republican Gov. Matt Mead signed the bill into law. It goes into effect July 1.

The Wyoming Democratic Central Committee voted unanimously in favor of the referendum during a meeting on Saturday in Casper.

The committee also elected new executive member officers.

Pete Gosar, of Albany County, was elected chairman; Ana Cuprill, Sublette County, was elected vice-chair; Cheri Schoonerer, Natrona County, was named secretary, and Joe Barbuto, Sweetwater County, treasurer.

Gosar, 44, is a senior pilot for the state Aeronautics Division. He ran for governor in 2010 but lost the Democratic nomination to Leslie Petersen, of Jackson. Petersen lost the general election to Mead.

Gosar said during a telephone interview Monday that the unpaid-wages bill "looks like a solution looking for a problem."

He said he has yet to find anyone in support of the legislation who can offer a legitimate reason for it.

"If we can get it on the ballot, the Wyoming people can at least weigh in on it," Gosar said.

State Rep. Lee Filer, D-Cheyenne, opposed HB 79 in the legislative session earlier this year. He said it was a bad bill and he is pleased an attempt will be made to repeal it, according to a Wyoming Democratic Party media release.

The Democrats are likely too late to collect enough signatures to get the issue on the 2014 ballot. The deadline is May 18, according to the secretary of state's office.

A ballot initiative requires the signatures of 37,606 registered voters from two-thirds of Wyoming's 23 counties.

Gosar admitted it will be difficult to get the bill on the ballot, but the party will try.

Meanwhile, Gosar called on Wyoming Democrats to be active in their communities and to participate in community service projects to show they care for the people and their welfare.

Another priority is reducing the gender wage gap in Wyoming, which is the highest in the country, Gosar said.

"It's abysmal that Wyoming is dead last," he said.

One area that could move the numbers is the wages for tipped employees, he said.

"They are stuck at $2.10 an hour and it hasn't changed in decades," while health care and other costs have risen substantially, he said.

"We're going to try and educate people," Gosar added. "We have to pay the cost one way or another. If they have to raise the cost of my meal to give these people a living wage, so be it."

Women in Wyoming who work 35 hours per week or more earn only 65.5 cents for every dollar earned by men who work the same amount of hours, according to a 2013 report. That includes women who work for wage or salary.

Outgoing state Democratic Party Chairman Chuck Herz said he was pleased with the new slate of officers and was particularly excited that Gosar would succeed him, according to the party's release.

Robin Van Ausdall, the state Democratic party director, said Albany County has a "youth surge," and so does Teton County.

She said Jordan Schrieber, the new state Democratic Party chairman for Teton County, is about 23 years old.

Schrieber could not be contacted Monday.

"I think Teton County and Albany County share more similarities than differences -- young, really active," Van Ausdall said.

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