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Delaware legislature approves $15 wage; bill heads to Carney

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Sen. Jack Walsh meets with SEIU workers protesting for a $15 minimum wage outside the statehouse in January 2020. Walsh has renewed the push in this year’s legislature. | PHOTO COURTESY OF WALSH OFFICE

DOVER – The push to increase Delaware’s hourly minimum wage to $15 by 2025 cleared the state House of Representatives on Thursday and now heads to Gov. John Carney for his consideration.

Senate Bill 15, sponsored by State Sen. Jack Walsh (D-Stanton), passed 26-15 along party lines. It would raise Delaware’s hourly base pay by more than $1 per year beginning in 2022.

During Thursday’s floor debate, Democrats struck down a number of Republican-backed amendments that would have pushed back the start date of the wage hike, held the minimum wage below $15, and made exceptions for small businesses and nonprofits.

One Democrat introduced an amendment that would have delayed the start date by one year for small businesses with less than 20 employees. Rep. Sherae’a Moore (D-Middletown) said her amendment would respect both the dignity of working Delawareans and the ability for small employers to pay their workers while ensuring their business survives the COVID-19 pandemic.

That amendment also failed, though it received support from the House Republican Caucus.

Opponents of SB15 say it will harm the lower income workers it is intended to help and slow Delawareans’ return to the workforce even as the state lifts coronavirus restrictions. Republican lawmakers on Thursday said SB15 could force employers to lay off some of their workers, pause hiring to afford the payroll hike or go out of business entirely.

Rep. Michael Smith (R-Newark) questioned how much the state’s grants-in-aid would need to increase for nonprofits struggling to afford the wage hike, while other Republicans raised concerns over what they perceived as a lack of projections on the true costs of the bill.

Carney expressed concerns over raising the minimum wage in 2019, but earlier this year he signaled he may be ready to sign the renewed push. A veto by Carney could be overturned by a supermajority of the legislature, which is feasible under current Democratic majorities.

If SB15 is signed, the state’s base pay would increase to $10.50 next January, then to $11.75 in 2023 and $13.25 in 2024 before finishing at $15 in 2025. Delaware would also join several surrounding states, including New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and New York, in gradually raising the minimum wage by 2025.

Some Delaware small businesses have come out in support of the bill.

Canalside Inn owner Kristen Deptula said she has paid her employees $15 an hour since buying the Rehoboth Beach hotel in 2019.

“Investing in my employees is one of the best business decisions I’ve made,” Deptula said in a statement via Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, an advocacy group pushing for the hike. “The economy reflects a continuous cycle of earning and spending, so when workers are making more money, they spend more, boosting our economy.”

Other bills aimed at ensuring higher wages

Democrats are also pushing to repeal the tipped minimum wage and the training/youth wage.

Rep. Kim Williams (D-Newport) introduced House Bill 88, which removes a provision that allows employers to pay their workers less than minimum wage based on their age or hire date.

“The minimum wage should be just that – the absolute minimum employers are legally allowed to pay a worker for their labor,” said Walsh, the bill’s Senate prime sponsor, in a statement.

HB88 was greenlighted by both chambers and is also awaiting consideration by the governor. The legislation would take effect 90 days after being signed into law.

Williams also sponsored House Bill 94 to raise Delaware’s hourly rate for tipped workers from $2.23 to 65% of the state’s minimum wage, which is currently $9.25. That means employers would be required to pay servers, bartenders and other tipped workers just over $6 an hour.

Currently, employers are required to pay their tipped workers minimum wage if their tips and base rate aren’t enough.

If Carney signs SB15, the pay for tipped employees would also increase under the proposed bill.

HB94 has not received any action since it was introduced in January and awaits the House Economic Development Committee.

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