This year, as elections loom and a national debate rages over the minimum wage and policies to make work more family-friendly, Connecticut is leading the charge in pursuing policies to strengthen protections for workers and their families.
We were the first state in the nation to pass paid sick days legislation, allowing women and men to take time away from work to care for their families without fear of reprisal. This spring, we raised our minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, the highest in the nation. Yet working women still face an uphill battle in the workplace. We are seeing more and more jobs moving offshore and being replaced with lower-paid jobs without benefits. Making our economy work for workers and their families must remain the focus if we want to preserve the gains women have made in the workplace this year and continue to lead.
Recently, I testified in Congress about the importance of closing the wage gap, ensuring better access to critical benefits and expanding opportunities for all women. As a woman in the labor movement, I know organized labor represents the largest working women’s organization in the country. While our members are not the main beneficiaries of many of these proposals, we understand everybody does better when everybody does better.
The Connecticut labor movement has strongly supported and fought for these changes because we understand these measures are two critical steps towards ensuring women’s economic security. Women are over-represented in low-wage occupations. Almost a quarter of Connecticut workers will benefit from an increase in the minimum wage, and more than half of the workers who benefit are women.
We must take steps to raise the minimum wage for tipped workers, such as restaurant servers, bartenders, and hairstylists, which has not been raised since 1991. Almost three quarters of tipped workers are women. They are paid 40 percent less, on average, than other workers, and they are twice as likely as other workers to be poor.
We must ensure Connecticut workers can afford to take FMLA leave when their children or family members are sick. Our state and federal agencies must have the resources they need to enforce labor safety standards. Employers in Connecticut know the chances of an OSHA audit are very low, and an inspection by a state DOL wage and hour investigator is not likely to happen. As a result, those women and men working in dangerous workplaces have little to no recourse.
Most importantly, we must ensure we have strong advocates for workers and their families in Congress, the state legislature, and the Governor’s office who will champion reforms increasing the economic security of Connecticut’s women—not stripping Connecticut women of critical protections.
This fall, women need to reclaim the debate. We must make this a conversation about what really matters to our families: our paychecks, our retirement security and our health. We need to invest in our communities so our children get the care they need to thrive. Most importantly, we need to vote for leaders who will continue “the Connecticut legacy” of progress, and not turn back the clock.
Lori Pelletier is the executive secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO in Connecticut.