DOVER — After a contentious debate that saw Republicans threaten to withhold critical votes from the capital bond bill later this year, the Senate approved legislation repealing the youth/training wage on Tuesday.
Sen. Bruce Ennis, a Smyrna Democrat, joined the Republicans in what was otherwise a party-line vote as the chamber by a 13-8 margin sent the bill to the governor. The House of Representatives passed the bill last month with solely Democratic support.
A spokesman for Gov. John Carney did not indicate whether the governor plans to sign it, citing the standard review process undertaken by the governor’s legal team after a measure reaches his desk.
House Bill 88 would remove from state law a provision enabling employers to pay workers who are in their first 90 days on the job or are younger than 18 up to 50 cents less than the state minimum wage, which is currently $9.25. It would take effect three months after passage.
The bill is one of several measures related to the minimum wage the General Assembly could pass this year, with legislation to raise the wage floor to $15 over several years awaiting a vote in the House after passing the Senate several months ago.
A separate youth and training wage was established in 2018 as part of a compromise between Democrats and Republicans on the final day of the 149th General Assembly. After the House narrowly approved a bill to raise the minimum wage by $1 at 3:50 a.m. on July 1, House Republicans refused to vote for the capital bond bill.
Following two hours of closeddoor negotiations, legislators reached an agreement on pay. In return for GOP support for the capital spending plan, Democrats backed the creation of a lower youth and training wage.
Tuesday, Republicans accused their counterparts of going back on that deal, while Democrats argued it was an unfair arrangement to begin with.
“This was negotiated with basically a gun to peoples’ heads, that we’re not going to have a bond bill unless we do this,” Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola, a Newark Democrat, said.
“I think the gun to our head was being told when we came into session that day that the minimum wage would not be heard,” Minority Leader Gerald Hocker, a Republican representing the Ocean View area, fired back.
Sen. Hocker warned Democrats they may find no Republican willing to vote for the bond bill, which allocates important funding for infrastructure projects and related needs, later this month. Though they have a majority, Democrats do not have enough votes to pass it without any GOP support.
But Sen. Hocker’s threats weren’t enough to cow opponents of the youth/training wage, who firmly believe a separate wage for underage or new employees is unfair.
“The minimum wage should be just that — the absolute minimum employers are legally allowed to pay a worker for their labor,” said Sen. Jack Walsh, a Stanton Democrat and the Senate prime sponsor.
“People don’t pay different rents based on their ages. The price of a gallon of milk doesn’t change depending on how long someone has been employed. Two workers doing the exact same job should be paid the same, regardless of what month they were born or what season they were hired. I want to thank my colleagues for voting today to close this shameful and discriminatory chapter in Delaware’s history.”
Republicans countered the measure will lead to greater automation and make it much harder for teenagers to get valuable initial on-the-job experience.
“They taught me things about responsibility, they taught me things about doing your job and not complaining,” said Minority Whip Brian Pettyjohn, a Georgetown Republican, of his first job working in a convenience store.
Sen. Dave Lawson, a Marydel Republican, and Sen. Dave Wilson, a Republican from Lincoln, criticized the measure as a “freebie” and a “giveaway program,” respectively, while Sen. Hocker argued the 14- and 15-year- olds he hires are not worth $15 plus the tips some receive.
Sen. Colin Bonini, a Dover Republican, informed colleagues he definitely did not deserve to be paid $15 an hour at age 16, decrying that lawmakers “are basically precluding a whole group of entry- level workers who need that experience and that first job” with this bill.
Businesses cannot hire anyone now at below the minimum wage, with some being unable to find help while paying less than $15 an hour, said Sen. Hocker, who owns several small businesses, including grocery and hardware stores.
It’s not clear how many Delawareans currently are paid less than $9.25 an hour through the youth and training wage.