Delaware's $15 minimum wage signed: What to know and when it will increase

Sarah Gamard - Delaware News Journal

Gov. John Carney signed a bill on Monday to increase Delaware's minimum wage from $9.25 to $15 an hour by 2025.

Carney signed the bill while flanked by Democratic lawmakers who pushed the bill.

"This is a big day, and a happy day for workers across the state of Delaware," Carney said, adding that the bill "not only provides additional wages for low-wage workers but does it in a way that doesn't discourage employment."

The minimum wage will now increase by more than $1 each year:

  • $10.50 by 2022

  • $11.75 by 2023

  • $13.25 by 2024

  • $15 by 2025

The Democrat-controlled General Assembly passed the bill along party lines in June, to the chagrin of Republicans and business lobbying groups that have fought against the increase.

That includes the Delaware Restaurant Association, which urged lawmakers to delay the wage increase to a later date, arguing that restaurants have struggled to recover from the pandemic. The organization didn't get its wish.

Carrie Leishman, CEO of the Delaware Restaurant Association, says she doesn't expect immediate negative repercussions of the wage increases.

"I think the challenge will be when we're in 2024, 2025 when those earning higher wages will want more due to wage pressure," Leishman said.

The bill had the backing of powerful union organizations that donate to politicians' campaigns such as the AFL-CIO and the UFCW Local 27.

"The legislation boils down to one core principle: Someone who puts in a hard day's work deserves to earn enough to put a roof over their head and food on the table," said Sen. Jack Walsh, a Democrat from Stanton who championed the bill.

Citing data from the Department of Labor, Walsh said 34,800 people in Delaware earn the minimum wage. Meanwhile, 53,200 people earn $10 or less, he said.

The Delaware Democratic Party supports the bill because it supports a $15 minimum wage indexed to inflation, according to a Monday press release from the party.

Some small business owners who support a $15 minimum wage praised the new law on Monday.

In a statement with other pro-increase business owners and the organization Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, Sarah Titus, owner of The Comic Book Shop in Wilmington, said she looks forward to minimum wage increases putting "more money in people’s pockets so they can spend more at local businesses."

"When you pay higher wages, and staff feel valued and aren’t scrambling financially, they return that to you in productivity and better customer service," said Titus said.

Kristen Deptula, owner of the Canalside Inn in Rehoboth Beach, said raising the minimum wage will help people and businesses recover from the pandemic.

“And more businesses will experience the positive connection between better pay, better employee retention, and better customer retention," Deptula said.

Republicans in the General Assembly have argued that the increase will hurt small businesses.

Delaware is the latest of at least 11 states along with D.C. to enact a $15 minimum wage, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

According to an official financial analysis, the state can expect to pay an extra $3.7 million per year by 2024 to increase wages for low-paid public employees. The analysis does not project costs for 2025 when the minimum wage would reach $15.

In June, lawmakers also passed a bill to erase a 3-year-old law that lets businesses pay young and new workers 50 cents per hour less than the minimum wage.

They also passed a bill to eradicate a law that lets businesses pay people with disabilities less than the minimum wage by July 2023.

Carney has not signed either of those bills yet.

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