Delaware Senate approves minimum wage increase
Delaware’s minimum wage rate could increase by $1 in the next two years, but it’s not likely to happen without a fight.
The Delaware Senate voted Jan. 26 to approve a rate increase to $7.75 per hour by Jan. 1, 2013, and to $8.25 by Jan. 1, 2014. The state’s current rate of $7.75 matches the national minimum wage. Servicepeople, such as waiters, would continue at the current minimum rate of $2.23 per hour, plus tips.
Senate Bill 163 would officially amend Title 19 of the Delaware Code, relating to the minimum wage. It was sponsored by state Sen. Robert Marshall and state Reps. Helene Keeley and Michael Mulrooney, all from the Wilmington area, with 12 other legislators cosponsoring the bill.
SB 163 won passage in the Senate by a vote of 12-9, but the House of Representatives and governor must approve the bill before that extra dollar is added to minimum wage in the coming two years.
The 50-cent rate increase matches Delaware’s earlier wage increases. Delaware minimum wage was raised to $6.15 in December 2006, $6.65 in January 2007, $7.15 in January 2008 and has matched the national increase to $7.25 since July 2009.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor Web site, 23 states currently match the $7.25 national rate. Washington, D.C., and 18 other states surpass the national rate. Nine states have a lesser rate or no minimum.
State Rep. John Adkins (D-41st) declined to comment on the bill until the House of Representatives debates it in March.
State Sen. George Bunting (D-20th) voted against the bill, along with other southern senators.
“The timing couldn’t be any worse, first off,” Bunting said this week. “Most of the emails that I got from the district were small-businesspeople like myself.” (Bunting operates an insurance agency in Rehoboth Beach.)
Despite the hour-and-a-half debate on the Senate floor and strong testimony against SB 163, Bunting said it was a situation where there would be no changing of minds.
“I do respect the Sen. Marshall for potentially running for the mayor of Wilmington,” Bunting said in regard to the timing of the bill. Marshall announced his candidacy for the 2012 mayoral election in 2010. He was unavailable for comment before Coastal Point deadline.
“Minimum-wage, philosophically, is a tough [subject],” Bunting said. “You want to be sympathetic, but you know the guys and gals running business down here. They’re taking a lot of young people to work. Pure entry-level work is usually coming in through small business.”
Bunting said the wage increase was not necessary for the population that actually earns minimum wage. The local restaurant owners he spoke with primarily pay the minimum to high-school students younger than 18.
“Most of what we see in the beach areas and the coastal areas … at least in my district, most of this is entry level, young people just getting started,” Bunting said.
Bunting said he doesn’t want to see anyone working for minimum wage, but Delaware is fortunate to have a strong tourist industry. Additionally, he said, many summer workers have come from Eastern Europe because there were not enough locals to maintain the work, and Bunting does not believe higher wages necessarily attract more local workers.
He said wages are market-driven, citing that some beach businesses would advertise their starting wage just to attract workers.
Bunting said an IHOP restaurateur testified against the wage increase because he can only afford to hire the large number of people needed at minimum wage. If the rate increased, he may have to close a restaurant, Bunting said.
Bunting said no businesspeople appeared to support the wage increase and that all of the state Chambers of Commerce spoke against it.
“I believe that the increase in minimum wage. for our area in particular, will have a negative impact on our small business owners, due to higher costs,” said Carrie Subity, executive director of the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce.
Subity told the Coastal Point that the recession is still impacting local businesses, which have not entirely escaped that slump, and “everybody’s still rebuilding.” She said the average small business has five employees or less, at least among Chamber members.
Subity sent an email to Chamber members last week, alerting them to the bill and encouraging them to contact local legislators in opposition. Although the Senate bill passed, she said the Chamber of Commerce will continue to keep everyone aware of the situation as the wage increase moves forward in the House.