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Labor secretary warns against minimum wage hike during visit to Hampton Roads

Labor secretary warns against minimum wage hike during visit to Hampton Roads
Labor secretary warns against minimum wage hike during visit to Hampton Roads
Labor secretary warns against minimum wage hike during visit to Hampton Roads
Photo from Inside Business.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia voiced his opposition to several worker-oriented pieces of legislation, including a proposed Virginia minimum wage hike, during a visit Monday to Hampton Roads.

“This does not strike me as a time where it makes sense to put a large number of new regulatory requirements on employers just at the moment when the job markets are functioning so well for workers, when wages are rising and where deregulation has helped achieve that,” Scalia said.

Several bills designed to increase Virginia’s minimum wage up to $15 an hour incrementally over several years have advanced through committees in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly. If passed, those bills would place Virginia with 29 other states that have a minimum wage higher than the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. Other bills would let government employees and teachers bargain over contracts, and create a paid family and medical leave program.

Scalia said state lawmakers will decide for themselves what employment policies to adopt, but cautioned against placing more burdens on employers. He also said he believed that federal deregulation of such policies had helped the national economy and boosted wages.

Scalia made the remarks after a tour of power equipment maker Stihl Inc.'s Virginia Beach manufacturing facility and a discussion with 21 Hampton Roads business leaders. Media outlets were not allowed to attend the tour or the discussion.

During the remarks, Stihl President Bjoern Fischer said he was proud of Scalia’s leadership on workforce issues. He also said his company was proud to sign on to President Donald Trump’s Pledge to America’s Workers program — a five-year plan to boost workforce training and career opportunities for workers of all ages and backgrounds.

“We have to work together to identify our needs and find solutions,” Fischer said.

The region is facing huge workforce issues, said Bryan Stephens, Hampton Roads Chamber president and CEO.

“A challenge we face now is there (are) not enough young professionals to fill newly-created jobs,” Stephens said. According to a 2019 study from the Hampton Roads Workforce Council, industries like health care, advanced manufacturing and transportation are having trouble finding skilled workers.

Stephens said he was encouraged by Scalia and Stihl’s commitment to workforce training.

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