A hike in the minimum wage across the commonwealth is one of the items of legislation facing members of Virginia’s General Assembly in the current 2020 session.
The House of Delegates has voted in favor of a bill that would raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $10 per hour by July of this year, and incrementally each year until July 2023, when the wage will reach $15 an hour.
HB 395 passed in the House on Feb. 11 by a 55-45 vote. Del. Jeion Ward, D-Hampton, sponsored the bill. Republican Del. James Edmunds, who represents the commonwealth’s 60th District, which includes Halifax County, voted “nay” on the bill.
Since its passage in the House, HB 395 has been tossed back and forth from the House and the Senate. At this time, both the House and the Senate are appointing members for a committee to discuss the bill, with the aim of reaching a consensus.
“I think a $15 minimum wage in Fairfax County would be very reasonable. A $15 minimum wage in Southside Virginia is going to kill jobs,” Edmunds said. “I wish there was a regional carve-out (for the increases). That would be a lot better.”
A similar bill – SB7 – squeaked by with Senate approval in a 21-19 vote on Feb. 11. Senate Democrats and Republicans struck a compromise on that bill, which includes a regional carve-out for wage increases based on median household income. The bill would raise the minimum wage to $9.50 per hour effective Jan. 1 2021; to $10.50 per hour effective July 1, 2022; and to $11.50 per hour effective July 1, 2023. After the 2023 increase, the yearly wage increase is indexed to the wage region with the highest median household income.
Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw is the bill’s sponsor. Both senators representing Halifax County — Republican Sens. Frank Ruff and William “Bill” Stanley Jr. voted “Nay” on the bill. SB7 moved on to the House, which has referred the bill to the Committee on Appropriations.
The Halifax County Chamber of Commerce foresees a negative impact on local businesses if the minimum wage jumps from $7.25 to $15.
“The Halifax County Chamber of Commerce supports a fair minimum wage that is not burdensome for business and based on regions’ median income,” said Mitzi McCormick, president and CEO of the Halifax County Chamber of Commerce. “To raise the minimum wage to $15 will cause businesses to cut jobs, particularly in small business. This legislation may not impact areas such as Northern Virginia, but would have significant impact to rural areas such as Halifax County. For this reason, we ask that a regional approach be taken as the General Assembly decides how to address minimum wage throughout the Commonwealth.”
Ruff said he believes the minimum wage hike would drive inflation and force some small local businesses, in particular small restaurants, to close their doors.
“It will disproportionately affect mom-and-pop businesses,” Ruff said. “If they have to cut back on employees, the owners are going to have to work longer hours.”
Ruff added, “You’ll lose the local restaurants, the small businesses that make community a community.”
Without the local restaurants and other businesses that add flavor to the community and only large corporations and chain restaurants remaining in business, Ruff said in his view, it would be a “gray world.”
Edmunds also predicts that a minimum wage increase would have a negative impact on small businesses, and drive inflation. In addition to hiking the minimum wage, HB 395 removes exemptions from minimum wage requirements for small businesses with less than four employees.
“The companies that can’t afford the increase are going to pass on the costs to the consumers, making everything go up,” Edmunds said. “Companies can’t sustain but so much of an increase.”
Caryl Moore, co-owner of LeRAVe Jewelry in South Boston, sees the minimum wage increase having a detrimental impact on her business.
“It would hurt us here in our little business,” Moore said. “If they raised the minimum wage that much, to $15 an hour, I wouldn’t be able to hire anybody, and that would probably decrease our input and output here.”
Moore said she and her husband Tim currently have three part-time employees, and because of that, the shop has a quick turnaround time for jewelry repairs for customers.
If the minimum wage doubles, Moore said she and her husband probably would have to cut their support staff, which would slow the turnaround time for jewelry repairs and leave her part-time employees who are currently in school without an opportunity to earn extra spending money.
In addition, Moore said she believes increasing the minimum wage would hurt the economy overall in Halifax County, which is finally rebounding from the recession.
“We’ve lost a lot of businesses here. Thankfully, things are starting to come back here…We see high times and low times in our business. Right now, we are in a high time,” Moore said. “If you keep things reasonable for a company to be able to hire people, that stimulates the economy.”
If either HB 395 or SB7 becomes law, by gaining approval in both branches of the General Assembly and getting the signature of Gov. Ralph Northam, it would be the first time the Commonwealth has raised minimum wage since 2009.
The federal minimum wage increased to $7.25 at that time, necessitating the Commonwealth’s increase in the base pay level.