Minimum wage meeting dominated by opponents

 

DOVER — The arguments against raising the state’s minimum wage were both economic and philosophical.

During an informal meeting discussing hotly debated legislation, small-business owners maintained raising minimum pay requirements would lead inevitably to layoffs and higher prices that would affect everyone, among other negatives.

Approximately 50 stakeholders spent about 45 minutes discussing the cons of Senate Bill 39 that would up hourly pay to at least $10.25 by June 1, 2019, after a series of 50-cent annual increases beginning later this year.

The ad hoc public meeting drew no supporters of the bill.

Using a small computer device as a prop while illustrating the pitfalls of a wage hike, state Rep. Jeffrey Spiegelman, R-Clayton, speculated that automation quickly could replace more expensive employees due to minimum wage and “it doesn’t need training and doesn’t call out sick …”

Next Wednesday, the Economic Development/Banking/Insurance/Commerce committee will review the bill, and could release it to the House of Representatives for a full vote or table the matter, pending a majority vote.

Committee chairman Rep. Bryon Short, D-Arden, intentionally made minimum wage discussion the only item on the agenda.

While the Affordable Care Act has increased health care costs for small businesses, upping pay also would add to federal tax and workmen’s compensation contributions from employers, adding collateral challenges, New Castle County Chamber of Commerce governmental affairs representative Joe Fitzgerald Jr. said.

Plus, Mr. Fitzgerald added in an often-repeated theme, “Minimum wage was never intended to be something on which you would try to raise a family on.”

Fifer Orchards owner Curt Fifer said his farm utilized 200,000 hours of seasonal employee labor to harvest last year’s product, and the cost of even an extra dollar hourly would put the family business in financial peril.

If the labor-intensive cost of picking and packing produce increases, Mr. Fifer said a higher price for businesses and their customers would result, putting Delaware growers at a competitive disadvantage with out-of-state marketers.

Plus, Rep. Quinn Johnson, D-Middletown, said, farmers can’t manipulate market prices that regularly fluctuate.

“Your message is definitely heard,” Rep. Johnson said. “(You should) continue the dialogue with the representatives and senators not here today.”

Rep. Short delayed any official action to garner more discussion time on the matter. Rep. Michael Ramone, R-Pike Creek Valley, said, it “is going to be a difficult time” when debate centers on whether to move the bill legislatively.

Coming on the heels of health care reform and with overtime regulations looming, Middletown Area Chamber of Commerce chairwoman Sital Soni said there’s just so much in costs that a small business can absorb without facing serious consequences.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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