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Northam Bends to Economic Pressure and Delays Minimum Wage Increase

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Governor Ralph Northam is calling for a delay in raising the minimum wage and allowing public sector workers the right to engage in collective bargaining.

When Democrats ended the General Assembly session last month, they were able to count among their achievements raising the minimum wage and allowing employees of local governments to engage in collective bargaining. Neither of those went as far as some progressives on the left wanted, but Democrats could claim victory.

That was before the economy tanked, and now Governor Ralph Northam is calling for a time-out on both of these.

Stephen Haner at the Thomas Jefferson Institute says delaying their implementation for five months is a smart move.  “We appreciate his acknowledgment that these ideas have economic impact, that these ideas are going to interfere with the recovery of the Commonwealth," Haner says. "But at the same time, a four-month delay or a 10-month delay is not a major change, and over the course of the next couple of years I still think these will have a bad impact on our economy.”

Not so, says David Broder, a service-industry union leader. He says now is exactly the time when those measures are needed the most.  “Front-line homecare workers, public health nurses, grocery employees — they’re on the front lines right now of combatting COVID and keeping our communities safe. They need living wages. They need paid leave, and they need the ability to negotiate for PPE today. Not a year from today.”

Later this month, members of the General Assembly will reconvene and consider all the governor’s amendments. They might end up agreeing with him that the economic crisis calls for a delay. Or they could reject that idea and his amendments.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria. He has reported for NPR, the New York Daily News and the Alexandria Gazette Packet. He has a master's degree in American Studies from Florida State University, and he is a former adjunct professor at Tallahassee Community College. He is the author of four books.