A proposal to increase Virginia'a minimum wage to $15 an hour narrowly failed in a State Senate vote this week along party lines.
But with elections coming up in 2019 for the state House of Delegates and the state Senate, Democrats – who trail Republicans in the House by three seats and in the Senate by two – could potentially take the reins of both chambers next year and push this type of measure through.
Some business organizations have expressed concern over such a significant hike, saying it would stunt job growth. The Senate bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2021 would have more than doubled the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
“Senate Bill 1200 would have had terrible, unintended consequences on small businesses and their employees,” Nicole Riley, the Virginia director for the National Federation of Independent Business, said. “Employers would have had to make a tough decision to either raise prices to cover the higher cost of labor or get by with fewer employees on the payroll.”
Riley suggested the General Assembly focus on legislation that would make it easier for businesses to grow and create jobs in the commonwealth.
Kate Baker, who works in government affairs for the Virginia Retail Federation, expressed similar concerns.
“Virginia Retail Federation opposes a mandated minimum wage increase in the Commonwealth,” Baker said in an email. “Many of our members pay far above the current minimum wage.
“However,” she continued, “when you raise the minimum wage it causes wage compression. When you raise the floor, it in turn requires many businesses to have to raise the [ceiling]. This puts an extreme financial burden on businesses when they are forced to increase expenses, when they may not be in the financial position to do so.”
Mike Thompson, president of the Virginia-based, free-market Thomas Jefferson Institute, also said in an email that raising the minimum wage would have negative consequences for the commonwealth and that the market should decide wages, not the state.
“The minimum wage is the first wage for many young people and raising it to some arbitrary figure harms the ability of first employees to start a career,” Thompson said. “Look at what happened in cities with $15 minimum wages. Jobs were replaced with robotic fast food ordering, etc. and encourages further automation. So this $15 per hour minimum wage simply shows how those who advocate it don’t understand how unskilled labor is still important.”
Thompson warned that such a bill would result in job losses for entry-level positions. Teenagers who are not qualified for much more might miss out on important skills learned on a minimum-wage job, such as dealing with people, understanding what work is like and learning how to handle real-world situations, which are an important part of growing up, he added.
“The economy needs first-time workers willing to compete for flipping burgers, bussing tables, yard work, etc,” Thompson said. “The market will do a good job in determining the wages for these workers. “
A primary sponsor of the bill, Senator Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg, was not available for comment.