MINIMUM WAGE DEBATE: Hike is the bale that broke the camel’s back

In the past two years, Delaware businesses have seen major increases in their health care insurance: some as much as 30 percent each year. They have seen an increase in unemployment insurance. They have also seen increases in the costs to do business due to increased regulations requiring more fees for things such as permits. Increases in taxes, licensing, and just plain operating costs. And then there was the 50 cents an hour increase for minimum wage just six months ago.

So, as a Chamber of Commerce, supporting businesses in Central Delaware, we ask, “will this new minimum wage increase be the “bale” that breaks the camel’s (business’s) back?

It is amazing that we even find ourselves having to ask that question. We have worked diligently over the past five years to make Delaware more “business friendly”. We have worked on lowering our workers’ compensation rate which five years ago was among one of the highest in the country.

For the past three years, we have worked with the government to address unnecessary regulations that were costing

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Judy Diogo

businesses big money causing some to leave the state. And, we even created a program called, Kent County Is Open for Business, which was later adopted by our neighboring counties to create a program called, Delaware Is Open For Business.

Do we really want to undo what we have worked on for the past five years?

I think we all understand the concept of fair pay, but I think we need to really take a good, long hard look at what that means in reference to minimum wage.

Minimum wage is no more than a starting pay. It is your entry-level pay. It was never created to be a way to make a living. Minimum wage is for that first job. That job that introduces you to the work environment. That job that teaches you to be to work on time. To respect the customers you serve. To respect your supervisor and fellow workers. To follow directions. And, if you do all this you learn that working hard and doing the right thing results in an increase in your pay!

I will also agree that in recent years we have seen people taking on a second job to help make ends meet and this second job may very well be a minimum wage job, but again, let’s look at that. A second job to supplement your major source of employment. Not your primary source of income.

When we talk about minimum wage I think we all need to keep these points in mind:

If we really want to help people in our state increase their rate of pay then we need to help them increase their employment opportunities. We don’t do that by increasing minimum wage. We do that by providing them with better education and better training that will then allow them to move from their entry or starting jobs to a permanent position. Then based on their skill set, they will receive promotions and increases in pay for a job well done! The other way, of course, is to increase the number of employers offering all ranges of jobs and pay.

14dsn minimum wage graphic for opinion by . I also understand that, we, in the business community, have always spoken up when the topic of raising minimum wage has been approached. Delaware businesses do not need another increase in their cost of doing business, nor do they need their state government stepping ahead of the federal government in mandating what they will pay their starting employees. That has pretty much always been our stance.

This year, more than just the business community has stepped to the forefront of this conversation on increasing the minimum wage. This year we have heard a loud, strong outcry from both the agricultural community and from the nonprofit community.

We have had four-plus generation farming families step up to the podium and say that if this bill to increase minimum wage to $10.25 by 2020 goes through, they will have to cease operations in as early as three years from now. We need to listen to that . . . Cease Operations.

It has been mentioned a number of times that there is language that excludes the agricultural community from implementing the Delaware minimum wage. This is true, but it really does not matter. Regardless of what the language in the statute says, these farm families are operating in the real world where they must compete for workers with other employers. If everyone else starts at a certain wage rate which is the Delaware minimum wage, then our farmers have to be competitive with those rates of pay.

Members of the nonprofit community also spoke to the proposed increase stating they would have to reduce their workforce which means they will have to reduce the services they are providing to those in our communities who are in need.

So, this increase in minimum wage isn’t just about the business community. It is about our entire community.

At the end of the day, we all want the same thing. We want a stronger economy. We want more jobs for our residents. We want higher paying jobs for our residents. We want more businesses coming to Delaware. We want our businesses that are here to stay and grow. We want to be able to help our fellow residents who need assistance. We all want this.

In order to achieve all this, we need to do what we do best in Delaware: we need to sit down at one table, roll up our sleeves, and come up with a plan to make doing business in Delaware easier and not more expensive.

So, we hold our minimum wage right where it is. Maybe we create an Earned Income Tax Credit piece of legislation (brought up by Sen. Lawson in his Delaware State News article last week.)

Maybe we make Delaware a Right to Work State.

The main thing here is that we sit and we find a solution together. One that does not cause our farm community to cease operations, and one that does not cause our nonprofits to not be able to deliver services to those in need.

The other thing we don’t want to do is pass a piece of legislation that becomes, the bale that breaks the camel’s back and makes Delaware a place where businesses cannot survive, let alone thrive!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Judy Diogo is president of the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce.

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