In Virginia General Assembly, Attacks on Commonwealth’s Working People

We aren’t halfway through the General Assembly session and Virginia’s legislature take aim at the wages and well-being of Virginia’s working people.

Earlier in the session, the House General Laws Committee voted to report both Delegate Webert’s HB1596 and Delegate Davis’ HB1753. If the House decides to pass Webert’s bill, state agencies would not be able to require its contractors to pay their workers the same wages that other employers pay in the same line of work. Davis’ bill is similar, prohibiting local governments from setting a wage floor for its contractors. These measures will cause Virginian wages to remain stagnant.

The General Assembly’s real assault opened at this week’s House Commerce and Labor Committee and one of its subcommittees. Democratic delegates brought three minimum wage increases to the subcommittee. These ranged from Delegate Plum’s increase from the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour, to Delegate Simon’s rapid growth to $15. Things already looked bad when the subcommittee decided to consider the three bills all at once.

Delegates Plum, Rasoul, and Simon all made valiant efforts and had marshaled all the evidence of the economic benefits of raising the minimum wage. A few brave citizens came forward with heartrending stories of their hardships. One young woman had the courage to tell the subcommittee that she had given her second child up for adoption because she couldn’t afford to raise another child on a full-time job paying $7.25 an hour. After the usual parade of business lobbyists had come forward to advocate for poverty, the subcommittee voted to kill all three bills.

Battle against working people

The assault on workers wasn’t over yet. Delegate Levine came as patron of a Family and Medical Leave bill–modeled on similar legislation from other states, Levine’s bill levies a 0.2% payroll tax to provide benefits to people who leave work for having a baby or caring for a loved one. Delegate Mark Levine made his case, but then shocking pettiness broke out.

A delegate, whom I could not identify from my seat, called out, “Didn’t you say that Trump supporters were mentally deficient?” Other representatives chimed, “Didn’t you say that everybody south of Fairfax was mentally deficient?”

These delegates were referring to comments made by Delegate Levine last year on Fox News, during the presidential contest. Levine was speaking in the context of now President Trump’s remarks that the “Second Amendment people” might kill Hillary Clinton if she tries to “take their guns” [1]. Regardless, I think we should congratulate these delicate delegates on coming out of their safe spaces long enough to join the committee hearing.

Chairman Hugo did not even attempt to bring the committee to order, failing his public duties as the presiding officer. A member stopped clutching his pearls long enough to move to kill the bill, and that was that. The Delegates killed a bill that would have provided relief for families all over Virginia. They could have just quietly killed the bill, as they no doubt intended all along. Instead, they decided to appear to kill it out of petulant spite. They didn’t even pretend, as they often do, that this bill would “hurt small businesses.”

If you were to make a drinking game to take a shot every time someone says “small business” in the Virginia legislature, you would die before half an hour is up. Small business is the baton with which Virginia lawmakers beat Virginia’s working people. Small businesses are the reason wages must remain stagnant. Small businesses are the reason benefits must be cut. If Virginia lawmakers were concerned about small businesses, they would have raised the minimum wage and enacted family leave.

The economics are in.

Gone is the business-friendly make-believe that said minimum wage increases would cause unemployment or impediments to starting small businesses. In 2014, 600 economists wrote to President Obama and Congress that “the weight of evidence now showing that increases in the minimum wage have had little or no adverse effect on the employment of minimum-wage workers” [2]. The federal Department of Labor reports that small business owners themselves realize that putting more money in the hands of employees means that employees will spend more at their businesses [3]. Also, the Washington Post reported last year that, despite the standard economic model, the rise in wages does not result in a proportionate increase in prices (a $0.01 rise in price for every $0.10 rise in wages) [4].

Despite our national self-image, the United States has the lowest rate of self-employment among developed nations. It’s the European countries, with their labor protections and higher wages, whose people can afford to maintain a high rate of small business. Europeans fought, and continue to fight, for their economic rights.

But many Virginia legislators don’t care about facts or the well-being of working people in Virginia. Our lawmakers are bought and paid for by the business class to bleed the people dry. If you want to call the delegates who voted against you, and let them know what you think, here are their names and phone numbers:

  • Timothy Hugo (R-40) | (804)-698-1040 | (703)-815-1201
  • Daniel W. Marshall, III (R-14) | (804)-698-797-1014 | (434)-797-5861
  • Jackson Miller (R-50) (804)-698-1050 | (703)-244-6172
  • G.M. Loupassi (R-68) | (804)-698-1068 | (804)-440-6223
  • Robert B. Bell (R-58) | (804)-698-1058 | (434)-245-8900
  • Peter F. Farrell (R-56) | (804)-698-1056 | (804)-644-0266
  • David E. Yancey (R-94) | (804)-698-1094 | (757)-897-3953
  • Margaret B. Ransone (R-99) | (804)-698-1099 | (804)-472-4181
  • Joseph C. Lindsey (R-90) | (804)-698-1090 | (757)-623-6522

Make sure they know that there are electoral consequences for their votes!