By Jesse Adcock
Capital News Service
RICHMOND - Advocacy groups for low-paid workers blasted a Virginia Senate committee for killing two bills that would have raised the minimum wage incrementally over the next three years.
"It is a sad day when politicians prioritize corporate profits over hardworking Virginia families," said Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia and a member of the Women's Equality Coalition. "$7.25 is not enough to put food on the table and keep a roof over your head at the same time, and no one who works a full-time job should be living in poverty."
Supporters of the legislation had hoped Virginia would become the 30th state with a minimum wage above the federally mandated minimum of $7.25 an hour. But on Monday, Republicans on the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee voted to kill the two proposals:
- SB 785, proposed by Sen. David Marsden, D-Burke, would have raised the minimum wage to $8 an hour on July 1, to $9 an hour in 2018, to $10.10 an hour in 2019, and finally to $11.25 an hour in 2020. The bill died on an 11-3 vote.
- SB 978, proposed by Sen. Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg, would have raised the minimum wage to $10 an hour on July 1, to $13 an hour in 2018, and ultimately to $15 an hour in 2019. The committee voted 11-2, with one abstention, against the proposal.
"Had we indexed the minimum wage for inflation 40 years ago, it would be $11," Marsden said. "People are really falling behind."
He said that by raising the minimum wage in yearly increments, his bill could have been repealed if evidence showed it was hurting the state's economy. Marsden added that by raising the minimum wage, consumers could reclaim lost buying power that had been lost to inflation during the previous decades.
Representatives from the Catholic Conference, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, workers' unions and minimum wage employees themselves came to speak in support of the bill.
"We continue to walk beside and around these people always telling them to 'pull themselves up by their bootstraps,'" said Athena Jones, who came from Portsmouth representing home care workers. "But [we] have never given them shoes in the first place."
Representatives of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Businesses and the chambers of commerce for Prince William County, Roanoke and the Richmond area opposed the bill.
"Raising the minimum wage does not solve the problem – it only creates new problems," said Ryan Dunn, a representative from the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. "There is no silver bullet for poverty."
Dunn said that should SB 785 pass, between 10,000 and 31,000 minimum wage jobs would be lost.
Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw of Fairfax pointed out that number of jobs lost would represent a tiny slice of the state population.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the more than 4 million working Virginians in 2015, 50,000 of them earned exactly $7.25 per hour, while 69,000 earned less, because of exceptions to the federal law. (Employees under 20 years old in their first 90 consecutive days of employment, workers who make tips and apprentices can all legally be paid less than the minimum wage.)
"How many of your members pay $7.25?" Saslaw asked the business representatives. "If your business plan requires you to pay $7.25, you don't have much of a business plan."
"Some of us have a view that the system does work," said Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Mechanicsville. "We have a good system in place."
The committee voted to "pass by indefinitely" both bills, which means they will not be considered further in this session.
Afterward, Julie Emery, executive director of the Virginia Civic Engagement Table and a member of the Women's Equality Coalition, said she was disappointed by the panel's actions.
"Yet again, the politicians in Richmond have refused to give the working people of Virginia a raise. This despite the fact that polls show Virginians overwhelmingly favor increasing the minimum wage," Emery said.