Head of Gilster-Mary Lee Says Minimum Wage Hike Plan is Bad News for His Company

Feb 12, 2019

A southern Illinois business owner says a 15-dollar minimum wage in Illinois would devastate his company.

Don Welge is president and CEO of Gilster-Mary Lee, a family-held food manufacturer headquartered in Chester.

He says if the proposed minimum wage hike to phase-in 15-dollars an hour by the year 2025 is enacted, he would move a considerable number of his 16-hundred Illinois jobs across the Mississippi River.
"What we would be forced to do is move considerable business out of our Illinois plants into the Missouri plants, particularly, because it's right across the river and there happens to be a bridge right there, so the employees wouldn't even have to move."
Welge says he might have to close one or two of his six plants in Illinois, or if that's unsuccessful, Gilster-Mary Lee might have to sell out to a larger corporation.

Welge says he believes lawmakers should consider a regional minimum wage based on the cost of living in different parts of the state or phase it in over a longer period.
"None of us are against wage increases. Our average employees earn about $12.50 an hour, which is well above the Illinois minimum. But, some of those are skilled and some of them have been with us some time. So, as a result, they should have a tiered increase and should be spread over like ten years instead of five years."

Gilster-Mary Lee currently has four thousand employees spread across 14 plants in Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Colorado.

Illinois Governor J-B Pritzker is urging the House to follow the Senate's lead and pass a minimum wage increase proposal despite calls from business groups across the state to change the measure because of the damage it could do to their bottom lines.

The House is expected to take up the bill this week.