After the New York Wage board unanimously approved a $15 dollar minimum wage for fast-food workers in that state, advocates throughout Connecticut are hoping it gives them a little more momentum here.
New York’s Wage Board moved last week to raise minimum pay for fast-food workers from the current $8.75 per hour to $15 per hour by the end of 2018 for New York City, and by mid-2021 for the rest of the state.
Connecticut could move in the same direction. Either the state legislature could approve a wage hike, or, according to New Haven Legal Assistance Attorney James Bhandary-Alexander, Connecticut’s Labor Commissioner Sharon Palmer could convene a wage board and make an industry-specific recommendation for a minimum fair wage.
“These little-known wage board provisions remain an important part of our minimum wages law that should still be considered when appropriate for particular industries, like fast food today, Bhandary-Alexander, said.
It be a faster route for advocates, since increasing wages remains a controversial topic with lawmakers.
However, at least two, have already joined what has come to be known as the “Fight for $15.” Rep. Peter Tercyak, D-New Britain, and Sen. Ed Gomes, D- Bridgeport, co-chairs of the Labor Committee, said they’d like to see Connecticut follow in New York’s footsteps.
“By deciding to make this move applicable statewide, New York has leveled the playing field for competition and helped more families put food on the table,” Tercyak said in a statement. “This is something we can and should be doing in Connecticut.”
Gomes said that New York’s decision serves as proof that the voices of their workers are being heard.
“Allowing employees to earn a living wage nationwide is critical to their quality of life,” Gomes said.
In Connecticut, union organizers and advocates have joined the “Fight for $15.”
More than 1,000 low-wage workers, union members, advocates, and a dozen lawmakers gathered at the state Capitol in April to support a wage increase and are now gearing up for the next wave of the fight.
While organizers with the Fight for $15 movement weren’t successful in getting an increase in wages, they were able to get the legislature to create a 13-member board that will investigate “the causes and effects of businesses paying low wages to residents of the state,” and to review how many workers are receiving public assistance. The language creating the Low Wage Employer Advisory Board was included in the budget implementer passed during the special session.
Marti Murphy, an organizer with the Fight for $15 group, called it “the New York Wage Board without the teeth,” and said he expects the board to engage different communities to solicit feedback and craft comprehensive recommendations.
“It’s a real opportunity for people who have few opportunities to express their voice to express their voice,” Murphy said last week. “It gives regular working people a chance to be part of a process that will affect and make some real change.”
In Connecticut, one third of workers earn less than $15 per hour, according to a report by the National Employment Labor Project. This means Connecticut’s is the lowest percentage of workers under the wage ceiling, with the exception of Washington, D.C.
The average number of workers under the $15 threshold nationwide is 42 percent, the report states.
Advocates for a wage hike say that everyone should be given the opportunity to earn a livable minimum wage, thus increasing jobs and stimulating the economy, while opponents argue that a threshold spike would eliminate jobs and raise product prices.
Lori Pelletier, Executive Secretary Treasurer of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, said that as the first state to heed President Barack Obama’s call to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, Connecticut should repeat it’s precedent of supporting wage increases.
“Now New York is raising the bar again,” Pelletier said. “We hope that Connecticut and other states across the country can look to New York as an example of what should be done to raise wages for low-wage workers.”
Connecticut’s minimum wage is currently $9.15 per hour, but will increase to $9.60 on January 1, 2016 and then to $10.10 on January 1, 2017.