After an almost-comical clash of opinions during discussions on the floor of the Delaware House of Representatives, a bill that would abolish Delaware’s youth and training wage passed and is headed to the Senate.
If House Bill 88 becomes law, it will mean that employers can longer pay younger workers or new workers 50 cents an hour less for the first 90 days of their employment.
It’s sure to get a favorable vote in the Senate, where a supermajority of Democrats are pushing legislation to raise minimum wage to $15 an hour by Jan. 1, 2025. They see the two issues as aligned.
Although the legislation sponsored by Rep. Kim William, D-Newport, also seemed sure to pass the House, that didn’t stop Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark, and Rep. Mike Ramone, R-Pike Creek South, and Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, from getting to loud verbal tangles.
At one point, Kowalko was repeatedly yelling “point of order! point of order!” while Ramone was talking about the genesis of the youth and training wage and Schwartzkopf was trying to keep the discussion on the bill and not on the minimum wage issue.
Kowalko complained that Ramone was violating Schwartzkopf’s request, but Schwartzkopf pointed out that Kowalko had opened up the issue and Ramone was merely responding. Kowalko didn’t like that and wanted to respond to Ramone, but Schwartzkopf refused to back down and would not let him.
The bill passed along party lines, with Democrats voting aye and Republicans nay.
The youth and training wage came into effect in 2019 after an 11th hour Hail Mary pass attempt and compromise on the last day of the legislature. Democrats succeeded in raising minimum wage to today’s $9.25 an hour. Ramone pushed through a youth and training wage to ease the burden on businesses.Error, group does not exist! Check your syntax! (ID: 11)
Williams and her supporters argue that paying teenagers or people starting out is unfair, discriminatory and sends a message that they are not as good as other people. Work is work, they said.
“We have a minimum wage of nine and a quarter an hour in this state, and we’re asking some folks to actually work for $8.75 per hour … that’s really a big slap in the face to hard-working,
everyday Americans,” said Rep. Eric Morrison, D-Glasgow.
Opponents, largely pro-business Republicans, said that businesses take a risk on new employees who aren’t trained, training costs time and energy, and many new employees don’t stay the course. They also point out that businesses coming out of COVID-19 don’t need another financial hit.
Rep. Danny Short, R-Seaford, talked about going out to eat in Salisbury and how the restaurant was already paying higher wages than before the pandemic because it can’t get workers. He said the bill won’t help.
“We’re trying to provide the opportunity for restaurants to get back in business at full strength,” Short said. “I think we’ll see the outcome of this six, eight, 10, 12 months down
Rep. Richard Collins, R-Millboro, said employers are taking a chance with every hire.
“We are talking about hiring people trying to get their first job,” he said. “The employer does not know their skill level, does not know their dedication level, and has to train them, in many cases.”
The bill has been assigned to the Senate Labor Committee, where it is on the May 19 agenda at 1 p.m.
Thursday marked the first day that the House of Representatives has been back in session on the floor in Legislative Hall since the March 2020 start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The House had held a session with representatives Zooming in from their offices in Leg Hall, but on Thursday, they were in their floor desks a few feet apart and masked except for when they were speaking.
Matthew Stonebraker contributed to this report.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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