Costco CEO Craig Jelinek clashed with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on Thursday about the need for a minimum wage increase.
Graham opened his remarks at the Senate Budget Committee hearing by insisting that a minimum wage increase would hurt small businesses in his state. He argued that lawmakers would have "decades" to discuss a wage increase but said now is "not the time" because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The South Carolina Republican then directed a series of questions to Jelinek, who testified that Costco is paying its employees at least $15 per hour.
"I just want to let you know that my concern is not really about Costco," Graham explained. "I'm worried about the small business owner who is struggling because COVID has reduced their capability to earn a living. Do you understand where I'm coming from?"
"I do understand where you're coming from," Jelinek said.
"So if you run a restaurant or hotel and nobody can travel in the country and seating capacity has been reduced by half or more, the revenues are down and can you understand why an increased mandate from the government in terms of cost would be a devastating blow?" Graham asked.
"No, I can't understand why it would be a devastating blow," Jelinek replied. "I think it's a devastating blow to the employees."
"Let me see if I've got this right," Graham interrupted. "You can't understand why a restaurant in South Carolina who has got half seating capacity because of COVID, barely hanging on, it would be devastating to them to increase their cost in terms of doubling the minimum wage? You don't understand that?"
"I don't know that I was suggesting doubling the minimum wage," the Costco CEO noted.
Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (D-VT) then pointed out that the proposed legislation would increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour over a 5 year period.
"Would you support $11 per hour minimum wage increase being proposed by Sen. Manchin?" Graham pressed the witness.
"It's better than $7.25," Jelinek admitted.
Watch the video below.