Battle brewing: Democrats seek repeal of youth and training wages

DOVER — Seven months after a fight over the minimum wage almost completely derailed the final day of the 149th General Assembly, Democrats are attempting to undo a key part of the compromise.

Legislation filed Thursday would eliminate the training and youth wages, which were created July 1 after Democrats and Republicans spent several hours trying to reach an agreement on raising the minimum wage. The decision to file the bill all but guarantees a fight over it at some point, a fight that could potentially derail important business down the road.

Democrats tried to downplay the bill Thursday to avoid angering Republicans, but it was clear the GOP was already unhappy.

Republicans, many of whom were not informed of the filing ahead of time, blasted the move as “a shameful breach of trust.”

“I think in this House we try to do things so that there’s no surprises and that we’re working together so that we don’t end up in a quagmire like we do in Washington. Doing things, making promises, then changing your promise is probably not healthy regardless of what the topic is,” said Rep. Mike Ramone, a Pike Creek Valley Republican who sponsored the training/youth wage bill.

Opponents fear repealing it could hurt teenagers looking for their first job and have a negative impact on businesses’ bottom lines.

House Democrats, however, accused their counterparts of hypocrisy, noting Rep. Ramone attempted to undo an increase in the realty transfer tax last January, less than seven months after that was critical to balancing the budget the prior year.

Legislators established training and youth wages after the General Assembly became bogged down in a debate over the minimum wage that threatened to force lawmakers to return another day to finalize the capital bond bill.

Democrats sought to increase the minimum wage from $8.25 to $9.25 in two increments, but Republicans cried foul over the majority trying to do so on the last day of session and at a time when most of the state’s population was asleep. Using the only leverage they had, House Republicans refused to vote for the bond bill, forcing the House to break for several hours while top legislators and executive branch officials met behind closed doors.

Around 8 a.m., they found common ground. Republicans agreed to vote for the bond bill if Democrats would put in place a separate minimum wage for individuals under 18 and those in their first 90 days on a job. The wage for both parties cannot be more than 50 cents less than the minimum wage.

The measure passed despite some opposition from both Republicans and Democrats, enabling legislators to conclude their business and, mercifully, depart.

But although the law did not take effect the start of 2019, it didn’t take long for it enter Democrats’ crosshairs.

“For me, the idea of paying someone less than the minimum wage solely because of their age or because they’re a new hire is unfair and discriminatory,” Rep. Williams, a Newport Democrat, said in a statement. “Wages should be determined based on someone’s experience, ability and value to a company.

“Under this system, a worker could do the same job as well as or better than someone else and be paid less simply because they’re younger or haven’t worked at the job as long as the other person. I’ve had time since session ended to reflect on that, and I feel that Delaware should not allow this discriminatory practice to continue. It does not agree with my values.”

The bill repealing the wages would take effect for the training wage 90 days after being signed into law and on Jan. 1 of 2020 for the youth wage.

“These reduced wages were added to Delaware law in the final hours of last year’s session and I think we need to seriously reevaluate that decision. Delawareans believe in fair pay for fair work and I don’t think this law reflects that — workers should not be paid less because they are young or new to the job,” Sen. Jack Walsh, a Democrat from Stanton, said in a statement.

Although the measure appears to have the support needed — it is sponsored or cosponsored by 35 of the General Assembly’s 38 Democrats — any attempt to run it is sure to cause fireworks.

Rep. Quinn Johnson, perhaps the only Democrat in the building who does not back the proposal, fears it will hinder lawmakers in the months to come by creating hard feelings between parties.

“The biggest question is more so because it was an end of the session agreement that was made as a concession, my concerns are definitely going to be, we saw how the bill caused difficulties to getting through our budgetary process and ultimately, although I’ve not asked them outright specifically, I would suspect that the Republican members, especially the ones that are here, are not going to be very happy with that proposal and I’m certainly more interested to see what their reaction is and I’m fearful that it’s going to cause greater implications down the road with the budget process,” the Middletown Democrat said.

Gov. John Carney’s office said only that the governor is following discussion on the legislation.

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