Originally created 07/25/02

Activist warns against laws that cost employers more



A human resources activist warns that Georgia could join other states in passing employment laws that would be costly to businesses.

Some states are establishing "living wage" laws and creating beefed-up versions of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act to benefit workers.

If similar laws were adopted in Georgia, they would erode the state's reputation as an "employer-friendly" state, said Liz Poythress, the legislative committee chairwoman of the Georgia chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management.

She told the organization's Augusta Area chapter that California is close to passing legislation allowing workers who take time off under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act to collect 55 percent of their wages, instead of taking unpaid leave, during a 12-week period.

"What does that mean to us? Cost, lots of cost," said Mrs. Poythress, who is the wife of former Georgia Department of Labor Commissioner David Poythress.

The retired human resources professional-turned-lobbyist also said an increasing number of local governments have adopted "living wage" laws that require employers to pay workers minimum wages higher than the federal minimum wage, currently $5.15 an hour.

Earlier this month, Alaska passed a law creating a statewide $7.15 per hour minimum wage, which will be adjusted yearly based on the consumer price index in Anchorage. And Baltimore recently adopted a law that will require city contractors to pay their employees at least $10.50 an hour starting in 2003.

"Some states have picked up on this, and there are now 120 communities that have these living wage laws," she said.

South Carolina recently passed a law that prohibits its municipalities from establishing minimum-wage rates that exceed the federal minimum wage.

Mrs. Poythress urged the local group's members to push for similar legislation in Georgia to keep the state's labor force attractive to potential employers.

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486 or dcline@augustachronicle.com.