Advocates disappointed by proposed delay in minimum wage implementation

Workers and advocates who urged Gov. Ralph Northam to sign a bill that would have raised the minimum wage at the start of next year were disappointed when instead a delay was proposed until May 2021. Democrats in the General Assembly passed HB395 and SB7 to increase the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2023, beginning with a raise to $9.50 on Jan. 1, 2021. Northam caved to pressure from wealthy corporate lobbyists and amended HB395 to delay the first minimum wage increase for 5 months, until May 1, 2021, noted advocates from Progress Virginia.

“It’s not just morally wrong for Governor Northam to delay wage increases for low-income workers. It’s also a blow to our struggling economy,” said Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia. “Right now low wage workers like grocery store cashiers, home health care workers, and delivery drivers are keeping us afloat. “Essential workers are putting themselves and their families at risk of getting sick in order to ensure that the rest of us have food and
medicine. They deserve to be thanked and supported, not denied a raise they thought was coming.”

The General Assembly will reconvene on April 22, and advocates are hoping lawmakers will vote down Northam’s amendments. “As workers struggle to manage the economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s clearer than ever that Virginians need a raise,” said Raise the Wage Coalition coordinator and UNITE HERE Local
25 deputy political director Lenace Edwards. “While we were glad to see that Gov.Northam did not veto the bill, we
are deeply concerned that his proposed delay in implementation will harm workers and communities who desperately need a raise.”

As originally passed, HB395 would raise the minimum wage on the following schedule:
Jan. 1, 2021 $9.50
Jan. 1, 2022 $11
Jan. 1, 2023 $12
After the minimum wage reaches $12 an hour, there would be a pause in the schedule to study the impact of regionalism and a second vote would have to pass in 2024 before we could raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2026.

“Governor Northam must understand that many parents can’t pay for utilities, can’t get toys or shoes for our kids and even struggle to pay rent or afford to eat,” said Abel Gebreab, a member of 32BJ SEIU from Arlington who works as a cabin cleaner at Reagan National Airport. Advocates argue that while this bill was an important first step, there’s more to do to ensure all Virginians see gains under the legislation.

Northam said the decision to increase the minimum wage starting May 1, 2021, to advance prevailing wage, collective bargaining, and project labor agreement legislation, will ensure workers get the support they need while allowing greater economic certainty in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Every Virginian deserves access to a safe and well-paying job,” said Northam. “These new laws will support workers and help our economy rebound as quickly as possible from COVID-19. I am grateful for the General Assembly’s ongoing partnership as we address these critical issues.”
Virginia’s current minimum wage is $7.25.


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