Low-income workers sue NV over health benefits

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Low-income workers sue NV over health benefits

Low-income workers in Nevada are suing the state for not enforcing a law that ensures they receive health benefits from their employers. The suit stems from a constitutional amendment passed by voters in the mid-2000s.

That amendment essentially gave employers in Nevada an option: they could pay the minimum wage, or they could subtract a dollar, but in exchange they'd have to provide health insurance. That never really happened, says Bradley Schrager, the attorney who's bringing the suit on behalf of several low-paid workers. He argues the state succumbed to lobbyists and developed regulations that made it easy for employers to get around the law.

"There's a whole set of loopholes built into the regulations that have wound up with people having no comprehensive low-cost health insurance, and they're not being paid the extra dollar."

Schrager says these loopholes allow employers to only offer insurance, not provide it, and then try to discourage employees from taking it; one example is systematically inflating the cost of benefits so workers don't want them. Other times, he says employers hire young people, who are on their parents' insurance, and older worker, who are already on Medicare or Medicaid.

All along, he says the state has done almost nothing to enforce the actual law.

"No enforcement, and no compliance. No employer has had to submit a health plan to the state , for example, to determine whether or not they qualify to pay their employees less. That's the kind of thing that ought to be going on, if you're going to enforce this law on behalf of those it's trying to protect."

The Labor Commissioner's office did not comment on the suit, due to pending litigation. Back in 2005, when this amendment was being considered, it was estimated between 50,000 and 100,000 Nevadans were working for minimum wage, which is currently $8.25.