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Virginia steps closer to repealing ‘Jim Crow’ minimum wage exemptions

RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia Senate on Friday passed a bill to repeal a Jim Crow era-law that legalized wage discrimination against many African-Americans.

The Senate voted to rescind the law that allowed employers to pay less than minimum wage to “newsboys, shoe-shine boys, ushers, doormen, concession attendants and theater cashiers” — jobs to which many African-Americans were relegated decades ago.

The Senate voted 37-3 for SB 1079, which removed those exemptions from the list of jobs not covered by the Virginia Minimum Wage Act.

On the Senate floor, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Lionell Spruill (D-Chesapeake) said the exemptions were rooted in Virginia’s history of discrimination against African-Americans.

“There is no reason for the workers in these professions to be paid below the minimum wage,” Spruill said. “It’s time to end these Jim Crow laws.”

Spruill’s bill also eliminated the minimum wage exemption for babysitters if they work more than 10 hours per week.

Two similar bills are pending before the House Commerce and Labor Committee: HB 2001, sponsored by Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, and HB 2473, introduced by Del. Marcia Price, D-Newport News.

In 2018, Del. Paul Krizek, D-Alexandria, carried a bill with the same intent, and it died in committee. Krizek said the minimum-wage exemptions were “obviously aimed at African Americans who were in these service jobs because those were the jobs they could get at the time.”

By Daniel Berti/Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South.

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