Seasonal workers at the Six Flags America in Prince George’s County could be forgiven for feeling their pay is on a roller coaster.
A proposed county amendment would exempt the amusement park from having to pay more than 2,000 seasonal workers the new minimum wage.
Under the bill, introduced las week by council member Derrick Leon Davis, Six Flags would be allowed to continue paying seasonal workers $7.25 per hour instead of incrementally raising hourly wages to $11.50 by 2017, as mandated by county rules.
“This is a very unique situation,” said Davis, a Democrat who represents the 6th district, where the amusement park is located. “These aren’t family-wage jobs, which the minimum wage is attempting to create. These are bridge opportunities for kids who are in college or high school.”
Six Flags America, located in Upper Marlboro, employs roughly 2,300 temporary workers every summer, Davis said. The proposal mirrors a federal exemption for amusement parks that rely heavily on seasonal workers.
“Six Flags is the largest employer for summer youth in this county,” Davis said. “That’s no small lift.”
But an employee rights activist said a choppy economic recovery and lack of new jobs — particularly in Prince George’s County, where the unemployment rate has long outpaced that of the region — have complicated the picture.
“As the nature of our economy changes, more and more adults are taking these low-wage seasonal jobs,” said Tsedeye Gebreselassie, staff attorney for the National Employment Law Project, which advocates for low-wage workers. “The myth is that they’re for teenagers, but that’s increasingly untrue.”
An existing clause in Prince George’s County already states that employees under the age of 19 who work less than 20 hours per week do not have to be paid the new minimum wage, Gebreselassie noted.
“We believe that everybody should be paid the same minimum wage,” she said.
While the federal minimum wage remains $7.25, a number of local jurisdictions have approved wage hikes in recent months. In Prince George’s County, council members unanimously voted to raise the minimum wage in November. A similar measure in the District, signed into law by Mayor Vincent C. Gray on Wednesday, will boost the minimum wage to $11.50 per hour by July 2016.
The exemption for Six Flags is currently being debated by the council. Davis said he expects on a vote to take place by August.
“Six Flags has been a good corporate citizen in Prince George’s County for a long time,” Davis said. “Either way this goes, I don’t think that will change.”
A spokeswoman for Six Flags declined to comment. The company, headquartered in Grand Prairie, Tex., has 18 amusement parks and posted annual revenue of $1.1 billion in 2012.