Small business owners were given a chance to weigh in on a minimum wage bill March 17, and not many agreed with it.
Carrie Leishman, president and chief executive officer of the Delaware Restaurant Association, took issue with the fact that the bill was already on the Senate agenda for March 18, even before members of the labor committee had heard testimony from a lengthy list of constituents.
“We're one of the only states to consider this during a pandemic,” she said. “We're at half capacity and losing business every day. Let's look to restore our workforce before we reform wages.”
Other business owners said Senate Bill 15, which would gradually raise the state's minimum wage from $9.25 an hour to $15 by 2025, would force employers to also increase salaries for those who now make $15 an hour. “You have to take into consideration all the costs,” said Sherm Porter, a business owner in New Castle County.
Frank Horton, owner of Back Creek Golf Club in Middletown, said he kept his employees working throughout the pandemic shutdown, but if he is forced to pay more for salaries, he will have to cut staff.
“This would cause us to eliminate positions,” he said.
Jason Dean said he would look for the most talent and experience if the minimum wage increases. Instead of hiring two people for $15, he said, he would hire one person for $25 an hour, and he expects other businesses would do the same. “They're going to hire the most skill for the most dollars,” he said.
Dean also took issue with proponents of the bill who largely represent workers’ unions.
“I hear many here who only sign the back of paychecks,” he said.
Judy Diogo, president of the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce, said Delaware could lose its regional edge in attracting business to the state if the minimum wage increases.
“By not increasing the minimum wage, we would have the edge of being the most business-friendly state in the region,” she said.
Diogo said Kent County has attracted six businesses to the area, but they may go elsewhere if costs increase. “All pointed to our minimum wage as a reason coming here,” she said.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Jack Walsh, D-Stanton, is supported by unions and groups that support workers. Walsh said the bill is intended to lift working people out of poverty so they can afford housing, food and other necessities. “Too many Delawareans have been left behind,” he said.
Sen. Bryant Richardson, R-Laurel, and Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover South, asked that the bill be held until the state of emergency has ended and the economy is back to normal.
“The restaurant industry has been absolutely devastated. We're going to see fewer jobs come back, less opportunity for people to get into the workforce,” Bonini said. “I would like to put this off until we have a sense where we are. I'm very concerned about the consequences of this legislation.”
The Senate decision on SB 15 was held after the Cape Gazette's deadline.