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UNG students debate minimum wage at event featuring state labor commissioner

Ethics and Eggs 2015
(From left to right): Robert Johnson, Keely Jabloner, Fernando Gonzalez, Efren Chavez and Michaela Climer of UNG's Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl team discuss a question before presenting arguments to a review panel featuring Georgia Department of Labor Commissioner Mark Butler. (Not pictured: Mallika Dinesh and Maria Palacios).

The Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl team at the University of North Georgia (UNG) debated the status of minimum wage and paid versus unpaid internships at a breakfast event featuring Mark Butler, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Labor.

Ethics & Eggs is an event hosted by UNG's Mike Cottrell College of Business and its BB&T Center for Ethical Business Leadership, and gives students the opportunity to discuss ethics and the role they play in current national and global practices and events.

Mark Butler
Commissioner Butler responds to statements from the team.

"Forums like today's event allow students to get experience and to get feedback on their problem-solving skills. Employers are seeking problem-solvers — individuals that can create solutions," Butler said. "Student organizations like the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl here at UNG help students develop soft skills. These types of interpersonal skills aren't emphasized in the classroom but are invaluable for their future careers."

During the event, the team was asked questions related to minimum wage and internships, and made arguments about the subjects to more than 50 of their peers and a review panel comprising Butler; Dr. Ruben Boling, director of the Center for the Future of North Georgia; and Elizabeth King, program coordinator for the center. Also in the audience were members of the BB&T Center for Ethical Business Leadership's advisory board.

The first question posed to the team asked, "What might the impact be if minimum wages were increased, decreased or abolished?" After a two-minute period of discussion, they presented answers touching on a lack of evidence in how past increases have caused negative impacts, and an examination of how states might respond if the minimum wage law was to be discontinued altogether.

"Abolishing the federal limit would allow all states to set their own minimum wage, which would drive healthy competition between states to retain skilled workers," Fernando Gonzalez said.

The review panel countered some of the arguments presented by the team, and Butler said that though no negative impacts from past minimum wage increases are prominently evident, there is not enough data to support a complete lack of adverse effects in the 19 states that have instituted increases.

Students in the audience also addressed the team's responses. One student argued that state-controlled limits would create a disparity between states in the number of skilled workers available. Another student pointed out that states raising their own wages could potentially disqualify workers to receive federal aid such as food stamps.

The other question posed to the team asked, "Do you believe universities have a moral obligation to play a role in the paid or unpaid status of internships?" The team and review panel considered the prominent role of the context of the internship, including the work done by the student and the inherent value of the position held by the intern. Butler noted that internships are essential because of the contacts and experience a student receives, not the monetary gain. Both tables agreed that universities should be involved in assuring the quality of the internship if the position is part of the student's curriculum.

The team will be competing in the 19th annual Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl, a national competition being held in Cosa Mesa, California, on Feb. 22. The topics examined by the team at Ethics & Eggs are just two of the 15 possible areas they may be asked to discuss at the national competition, and they have no prior knowledge of what the questions may entail.

The team was named a semifinalist at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Ethics Bowl at Clemson University in November.

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