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Carney signs bill to set minimum wage to $15 by 2025

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Gov. John Carney signs the minimum wage bill into law, while surrounded by lawmakers, business owners and advocates. | DBT PHOTO BY TAYLOR GOEBEL

On Monday morning, amid the bustle of downtown Wilmington as cashiers, fast food cooks, dishwashers and other low-wage employees clocked in, Governor John Carney signed into law a bill that could have a profound impact on both those workers’ paychecks and their employers’ bottom lines.

Under Senate Bill 15, Delaware employers will be required to pay their workers at least $15 an hour by 2025.

SB15 will raise the minimum wage by more than $1 per year beginning in January 2022, when the state’s base pay will increase from $9.25 to $10.50 an hour. The hike will continue with an increase to $11.75 in 2023, followed by $13.25 in 2024 before finishing at $15 in 2025.

Carney thanked the bill’s sponsor, State Sen. Jack Walsh (D-Stanton) for “coming up with an approach that not only provides additional wages for low-wage workers but does it in a way that doesn’t discourage employment.”

“Our overall goal is to make sure everyone has a job and an income and the ability to support themselves and their families,” the governor added.

About 150,000 Delawareans would be impacted by the bill, including 35,000 workers currently earning the state’s base pay of $9.25, according to the state labor department. Agriculture and farm workers would be exempt from the bill under Delaware’s labor laws.

Delaware joins several surrounding states, including New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and New York, in gradually raising the minimum wage by 2025.

“The bill is not a question of pro-business or anti-business,” Walsh said among a throng of legislative colleagues, business owners and advocates for a higher minimum wage. “It’s a simple question of whether you believe in lifting people out of poverty or not.”

SB15 puts Delaware on an aggressive pay bump schedule compared to its Mid-Atlantic neighbors. Maryland, for example, has a slower timeline for employers with fewer than 14 workers, giving them an additional 18 months to reach $15 an hour. New Jersey has a similar provision for small employers and seasonal workers. It also spaces out wage increases over six years before reaching $15, compared to four years under SB15.

SB15 swiftly cleared the Democrat-controlled House and Senate this year, with objections and concerns coming mostly from industry lobbyists, Republican lawmakers, some business owners and chambers of commerce throughout the state.

The bill spurred a contentious debate, as opponents of SB15 warned such an increase may cause employers to cut hours and positions, thus hurting the very people the bill is intended to help. Restaurant industry advocates said hospitality employers wouldn’t be able to absorb the steep increases in such a short amount of time. And some non-profit leaders said they’d need
more funding to afford the wage hike.

But others, including business owners, said the increase will help attract workers to Delaware with the promise of higher wages, therefore decreasing turnover and allowing Delaware to remain competitive with surrounding states.

“It’s always been my objective to make sure…that everyone who puts in a full day’s work and works hard is not receiving wages under the poverty level,” Carney said as he signed SB15 into law. “We’re walking the talk now.”

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