Christine Stuart photo
Rep. Ed Vargas, D-Hartford (Christine Stuart photo)

HARTFORD, CT — More than a 100 fast food, child care, and home care providers huddled under the north portico of the state Capitol in Hartford Tuesday to call on lawmakers to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

On Jan. 1, 2017 the minimum wage will increase to $10.10 an hour, but fast food workers like Yvonne Rodriguez said that’s still not enough to pay her bills and feed her family. She said if she made $15 an hour she would have $150 left over at the end of the month.

“We’re not backing down until the economy works for everyone, not just the people at the top,” Rodriguez said. “I can’t afford childcare and as a result am left to depend on family to watch my kids. I’m a single mother of four and making $9.60 an hour isn’t near enough to cover my bills and provide for my kids.”

She asked the cheering crowd how many will have to sit down at the end of the month and figure out how much money they won’t pay toward their rent so they can buy Christmas gifts for their children.

It’s an all too familiar juggling act for many.

Rep. Ed Vargas, D-Hartford, the only lawmaker present Tuesday for the Capitol rally, said there is a good chance the legislature can raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. 

He said the reason the state budget is in a deficit is because revenues are not as strong as they have been in the past and depressed wages are a contributing factor.

Christine Stuart photo
Queen Freelove of New Haven is an home child care provider (Christine Stuart photo)

A report from Connecticut Voices for Children found that since 2001, the share of private-sector jobs in low-wage industries in Connecticut has increased by 20 percent, while the share of private-sector jobs in high-wage industries has decreased by 13 percent. In addition, 44 percent of private sector growth since 2010 has been in low-wage industries.

Vargas said Henry Ford increased wages for his workers when he figured out they couldn’t make enough to purchase a Model-T.

“He did it because he realized if you keep on depressing wages, who is going to buy them,” Vargas said. “So in a capitalist society like this people need to have purchasing power.”

California and New York have both approved $15 minimum wages that will phase in over the next several years.

Two years ago Connecticut was the first state in the nation to pass a law increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

The union-backed “Fight for $15” rallies in Hartford at the state Capitol and at the McDonald’s on Washington Street were just two of the hundreds of protests nationwide.

Fast-food workers are walking off their jobs in 340 cities from coast to coast, demanding $15 and union rights, according to an SEIU 32BJ press release.

Joining the fast-food workers were child care and home care providers, who are allowed to join a union and organize in Connecticut.

“Home care workers need a living wage so we can provide for ourselves that same quality of life for those we take care of,” Arnold Nicholson, a Hartford home care worker, said. “That’s why we won’t stop until we win a livable wage for all.”

Queen Freelove, a home child care provider from New Haven, applauded a decision by the state to continue funding families already receiving a popular child care subsidy.

She said it’s a good “short term” solution to the current budget deficiency even if it means some low-income families and teens won’t be able to start receiving the subsidy.

Helen Figueroa, director of Family Child Care Team at CSEA/SEIU 2001, said it’s a good temporary solution. If the state decided to start kicking families off to save money, it would mean child care providers would begin losing their jobs.

The wave of strikes and civil disobedience in the Fight for $15 follows an election defined by workers’ frustration with what they believe is a “rigged” economy.

A report released Tuesday by the National Employment Law Project, a liberal advocacy organization, shows the Fight for $15 has won nearly $62 billion in raises for working families since that first strike in 2012.