By Cole Grant/UM Legislative News Service
HELENA – Montana lawmakers heard testimony on a bill Tuesday that would add seasonal outdoor recreation employees to a list of people who wouldn’t necessarily be eligible for minimum wage or overtime pay.
Others on that list include apprentices, or those employed in private homes doing things like babysitting or mowing lawns.
Pam Gosink, executive director of the Montana Dude Ranchers’ Association, said if dude ranches aren’t exempt from these wage laws, their outings would become unaffordable.
“If they are limited to operating on eight hours per day, it would be impossible to offer a personal experience to both our clients and their staff,” she said.
Representatives from the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association mentioned most of these employees are in it for the passion, not the money.
Rep. Casey Schreiner, D-Great Falls, asked one of them about that aspect of their argument.
“Couldn’t the same argument be made if I was a machinist, at ADF in Great Falls, and I loved my job, that my employer could say, ‘You know what? He actually gets enjoyment out of this employment, so we should be able to put that in, factor that in as part of his wage.’ I mean I feel like that is exactly what we’re saying here,” he said.
Jean Johnson with the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association said these outfitters are small businesses, and the owners don’t have a big chunk of change they’re hiding from their employees.
“OK, let’s talk about livestock. If you’ve got to carry that livestock all of the way through the year before another session, you’ve got to have some profit there,” she said.
There was one opponent to House Bill 496 who testified at the hearing. Chris Cavazos with the Montana AFL-CIO, which represents Montana unions, raised concerns with how vague the language of the bill is, and said it, “would reduce how much money people make.”
Minimum wage in Montana is $8.15 an hour. Overtime pay is at least 1½ times hourly pay after 40 hours in a week, unless you’re a student working a seasonal recreational or amusement job and provided lodging, board and other amenities. Then it’s after 48 hours.
Rep. Vince Ricci, R-Laurel, is carrying the bill. The House Business and Labor committee did not immediately take action.
Cole Grant is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.