$15 minimum wage bill easily passes Senate, 14-7

Betsy PriceBusiness, Government & Politics, Headlines

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As expected a bill that would raise Delaware’s minimum wage bill to $15 by Jan. 1, 2025, sailed through the Senate after a debate of more than hour.

The bill, passed by 14 Democrats and opposed by seven Republicans, now moves to the Delaware House to debate.

Comments from senators repeated much of what’s already been said, but included a touching moment of Sen. David L. Wilson, R-Cedar Creek Hundred, breaking down into tears when he talked about having to stop a $100,000 auction his company planned because of COVID-19 restrictions and being forced to lay off 18 employees the next day.

Under the bill, Delaware’s minimum wage would increase from today’s $9.25 to $10.50 on January 1, 2022. Sponsor Jack Walsh, D-Stanton, and others say that gives state businesses nine months to recover from the pandemic.

The bill would add another $1.25 raise in 2023, followed by a $1.50 raise in 2024 and a $1.75 raise in 2025.

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Walsh said the bill included many compromises. He said he originally wanted a new minimum wage to take effect immediately, but delayed it until January and lowered the amount of the raise to help businesses still dealing with the pandemic.

The bill would add another $1.25 raise in 2023, followed by a $1.50 raise in 2024 and a $1.75 raise in 2025.

Sen. Marie Pinckney, D-Beare, said, “There is so much further that we could have gone with this bill … Because minimum wage has been lagging behind for so long, there were many of us that wanted to see this go a lot further than it does. There were many of us that wanted this legislation to be tied to an inflation index, so we don’t have to keep fighting the same fight as frequently as we do, but that’s not in the bill.”

The bill does not repeal the youth and training wage, as it once did, she said.

“Because for some reason, there’s an understanding according to our law that because there’s a teenager that is employed or because there is someone who is newly employed, that they deserve to be making less than an already despicable wage,” she said.

The bill also didn’t include a rise in tip wages, she pointed out. (Another bill does).

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“There are some of us that are incredibly disappointed that this bill does not go far enough,” Pinkney said. Even so, she said she would be proud and honored to vote on the bill to help raise people out of poverty.

Sen. Bryant Richardson, R-Seaford, questioned whether raising minimum wage to $15 an hour would push people out of state and federal benefits for things they would not be able to afford on their own.

Walsh said it wouldn’t. He cited a federal Congressional Office Budget that said raising the federal minimum wage to $15 would help 27 million workers hurt by COVID-19 and raise nearly 1 million people out of poverty. That will mean less aid money is needed from the state and the federal government, he said.

The report also said about 1 million people would lose their jobs and raising minimum wage would raise the federal deficit.

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Sen. Gerald Hocker, who owns grocery stores, said that just raising minimum wage by $1 will cost him $168,000 because he has to pay an additional $15,000 in unemployment claim insurance and another $9,000 a year in federal employee taxes. He already pays $340,000 in health care, he said.

He asked Walsh where all that money is supposed to come from.

“You know it’s not our place as legislators to tell them how to run their businesses on a daily basis,” Walsh said. It is their place, he said, to set a floor for how much Delaware workers  should be paid so they can keep up with the price of inflation, cost of rent,  groceries and transportation. “We have to do better, or we will end up all paying the costs of those working families who depend on state assistance programs to survive.”

Hocker said that what is going to happen is that employees will have to start paying part of their insurance, that he’ll install automatic checkouts that take the place of five employees and inflation will mean a half gallon of milk will be $4.50, a pack of hot dogs $4.50 and a dozen eggs $1.50 by 2025. That is going to hurt older people on fixed incomes, he said.

Sen. Elizabeth “Tizzie” Lockman, D-Wilmington, said raising minimum wage will  help workers who have been left behind by decades of unfair economic policies and help grow a thriving middle class.

“Dignified work is a key to growing that,” she said, especially for minority or marginalized people. “People do want to work. They don’t want to be on state assistance. They want to work and they  deserve a wage that respects the dignity of their work … We have to do more than just hope and encourage them to get more skills and to get a foothold in an economic success. ”



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