Farmers, Minimum Wage Hike, and Voting Straight “R”

In case you haven’t heard, an upstate legislator, Sen., Robert Marshall (D-Wilmington West) recently sponsored SB 39 to raise Delaware’s minimum wage over several years. When discussing this topic, many seem uneducated because they don’t own a business or they do not work a minimum wage paying job. Therefore, I think it’s important to start by laying out the current facts:

  • The current federal minimum wage rate is: $7.25, effective July 24, 2009, for non-exempt employees
  • However, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) states if an employee is subject to both the state and federal minimum wage laws, the employee is entitled to the higher minimum wage rate.
  • Delaware’s minimum wage rate is: $8.25, effective July 1, 2015.
  • Surrounding states (according to NCSL):
    • Virginia remains $7.25
    • Maryland is $8.25 but raises to $8.75 in July 2016, $9.25 in July 2017 and $10.10 in July 2018
    • Pennsylvania remains $7.25
  • As of Jan. 1, 2016 the highest rate is D.C. at $10.50. This is the first rate to cross the $10.00 threshold. If you don’t count D.C. as a state then next up is California and Massachusetts at $10.00.

In Delaware, the bill passed the Senate on Jan. 27, 2016. The bill originally proposed incrementally increasing the wage to $15.05 by over eight years (eff. June 1, 2023)! However, after a fierce debate, the bill was amended to increase to $10.25 over four years:

  • $8.75 eff. June 1, 2016
  • $9.25 eff. June 1, 2017
  • $9.75 eff. June 1, 2018
  • $10.25 eff. June 1, 2019
  • There is no change to minimum wage with tips (i.e. restaurant server)
  • There is no cost of living adjustment (COLA)
  • There is a fiscal note attached which outlines increases to casual/seasonal state workers

Business owners came out in full force to testify against the bill, which included many farmers, such as Fifer Farms in Kent and Vincent Farms in Sussex. Both testified and opposed the increase as seen on WBOC: Some Local Farmers Oppose Higher Minimum Wage

Apparently the response from legislators to the farmers was: “But Ag is exempt!”. Not once did they say “Ag is our #1 Industry”! Employees in agriculture are exempt but anyone who owns a business knows that it’s hard to find to good help these days. Agricultural employers MUST stay competitive in order to attract skilled workers. Therefore, ag is truly not exempt. The same goes for young workers (under the age of 20), who are also exempt. For example, Little Wagon Produce hires many seasonal employees who are usually high school students. How will we attract these students to work in the heat, pick produce, and get dirty for $7.25/hour when they can work in the air conditioner at McDonald’s for $10.25/hr? The same goes for foreign laborers who can work for larger landscaping companies instead of local farming operations. I believe the response to our local farmers shows just how uneducated our legislators really are today. Many have NO ties to local farming or own any type of small business.

Our local Chamber’s of Commerce have spoken out against the bill as well. Judy Diogo, President of the Central Chamber of Commerce, recently wrote an excellent opinion in the Delaware State News, noting many other increases to small businesses such as health care insurance, unemployment insurance, taxes, regulations, licensing fees, and operating costs. She noted 70% of the 1,000 businesses she represents were against a hike increase. This fact should have perked every Kent legislator’s ears; however, many voted YES including Sen. Bruce Ennis (D-Smyrna) who chairs the Senate Ag Committee! So disappointing! Especially after hearing so many farmers testify. Again, this is a negative outcome from the lack of agricultural ties in our legislature.

Last but not least, I must mention another local opinion from a young observant, Stephen Baione,  who just happened to be visiting the Senate chamber on the day of the minimum wage debate. His article was well-written and his observations speak volumes. He, too, realizes many do not own a business. But the common disrespect towards those testifying and minority party legislators makes me want to change my party status ASAP. It also makes me want to vote straight “R” in the upcoming election. If you don’t read anything else in this blog, please click on this link.

The bill is now Assigned to Economic Development/Banking/Insurance/Commerce Committee in the House. The DE General Assembly goes back into session in March 8th. I encourage you to speak out and contact your local legislator or local Chamber of Commerce today. 

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