GUEST OPINION: Blue Collar Honor

By on March 6, 2013

Teton County Representatives, Ruth Ann Petroff, Keith Gingery, Marti Halverson and Teton County Senator Leland Christensen supported and voted for House bill 79 in the 2013 Wyoming legislative session. The bill “amending the definition of unpaid wages to exclude the value of accrued vacation” means that employers may pocket unused vacation dollars should an employee quit or be terminated. The only requirement is the employer must have a policy in place stating that unused vacation is forfeited upon termination.

There are differences of opinion on laws affecting worker/employer relationships, but most would agree that if one works for eight hours and turns in time for 10 hours or uses company gas to fill his personal vehicle, that person is stealing. Why is an employer taking money belonging to his employees any less than theft?

It seems our elected officials want us to think that vacation time is somehow an extra; given as a freebie above and beyond the wages one earns because vacation pay is not required by law. That is simply not true and they know it.

People take jobs based on the wages paid, wages being a total package of hourly rate and benefits. Vacation time is simply a way of distributing wages. The math is simple, even for a politician. If you have a wage package of $22 an hour including $20 in pay and the other $2 is added to your vacation time, whose money is the unused vacation? Bill 79 states that the money belongs not to the employees who earned it, but the business owner. What if the employee had taken the $2 more in wages? Would the employer be able to attach a lien to his savings account and get back the $2 an hour? Of course not. So why should he be entitled to unused vacation money held in a different account?

If vacation time is a “bonus” because the law does not require it, then why are wages paid above the $7.25 minimum wage also not a bonus? There is simply no logic to the argument that accrued vacation time is a bonus and it is merely being used as an excuse.

The fact that it can be expensive to train a replacement for a terminated employee is not a reason for the employer to steal what does not belong to them. If I wreck my car it is expensive to buy a new one – should I be allowed to steal one? It is no different. It is also expensive to be terminated and the jobless worker deserves the money his labor has earned.

The votes of Gingery, Christensen and especially Petroff are particularly disturbing. Despite being staunch Republicans, they have taken stances on matters of principle that oppose their party’s line and all have shown the ability to apply traditional GOP values to new ideas and concepts. After listening to popular Republican talking heads and watching our local representatives vote, it seems to me that the GOP (my old party), sees workers as second-class citizens; workers are OK come election time, but in all seriousness not worthy of fair and honest treatment.

Wyoming Republicans and Democrats have a history of being pro-business, and good for them. Why would anyone be anti-business? The truth is businesspeople are important, and when successful they deserve the fruits of their innovation and risk. But I would suggest to our representatives that the electrician wiring isolation transformers into high-voltage lines for airport runway lights, the secretary, who, if she misses a day of work, the whole company falls into chaos; the welder bonding steel beam to girder, are not to be merely dismissed as inconsequential, somehow less human, less worthy of justice than those for whom they work.

Working people deserve the wages their labors earn. They also deserve, if not the respect of our elected representatives, at least their honest consideration.

I would like to thank Representatives Petroff and Gingery – I am not even in their district – and Senator Christensen for responding to my e-mails about their votes. Conversely, Representative Halverson – I am in her district – did not respond to questions about her vote. I hope people in Teton County appreciate representatives that answer questions even when they don’t agree.

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