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Youth and training wage repealed by state legislature

Delaware Public Media

State senators repealed the youth and training wages Tuesday, undoing a bill passed by Republican lawmakers during a 2018 budget showdown.


Efforts to undo the youth and training wage have been ongoing since it was instituted. That provision allows employers to pay workers under 18 or those less than three months on the job 50 cents less than the minimum wage.


State Rep. Kim Williams (D-Stanton/Newport) started working to undo this legislation in 2019, but saw pushback from Democratic colleagues until this year.


State Sen. Jack Walsh (D-Ogletown), the bill’s sponsor in the Senate, says the lower wage was immoral and discriminatory.


“The minimum wage should be just that, the minimum wage — and not a subminimum wage," said Walsh. "All of our workers work hard, our Delaware workers work hard each and every day and they deserve a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.”


Proponents of the bill argue the youth and training wage hurts young workers trying to support their families, and preys on seasonal workers, who may work less than three months at a time, and thus are always paid below minimum wage.


Senate Republicans say the bill was passed back in 2018 as part of budget negotiations, and made way for the last minimum wage increase in the state.


Walsh disputes that, and says Republicans forced their hand on the youth and training wage in order to get the Bond Bill passed in the late hours of the final day of session.


State Sen. Gerald Hocker (R-Millsboro) threatened to once again stall budget negotiations this year because of this repeal.


He also argues removing the youth and training wage would exacerbate the labor shortage the state is experiencing coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Walsh thinks this will actually encourage more people to come back to work.


“I think right now people, they’re not taking the minimum wage jobs because they feel they deserve more and they should make more right now in these days and times — I think that passing this bill today will help the labor market,” he said.


This bill is just one of a few bills aimed at changing wage laws in the state. Walsh's own bill, Senate Bill 15, would raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour over the course of a few years.


That bill already passed the Senate and is waiting for a House vote. Walsh says removing the youth and training wage strengthens that effort.


The bill now await’s Gov. Carney’s signature — and will go into effect 90 days later.

Roman Battaglia grew up in Portland, Ore, and now reports for Delaware Public Media as a Report For America corps member. He focuses on politics, elections and legislation activity at the local, county and state levels.
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