HARTFORD, CT — With the clock ticking toward the end of the General Assembly session, state business leaders Monday urged legislators not to act on a series of bills that they said would hurt Connecticut’s economy.
The bills the business community opposed at a Legislative Office Building press conference included increasing the minimum wage, Paid Family Medical Leave, expansion of paid sick leave, and sex harassment training.
“While well intended, these proposals are being considered at a time when Connecticut is still struggling to compete with other states for investment, economic growth, and job creation,” Connecticut Business & Industry Association President and CEO Joe Brennan said.
“These mandates will add costs and administrative burdens on job creators when we should be unlocking — not restraining — the state’s economic potential,” Brennan said.
The most controversial issue is raising the minimum wage.
Sources say the Democrats don’t have the votes in either chamber at the moment to pass an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said Monday when the Senate wanted to take the bill up first he stopped doing a “hard vote count” on it.
However, it’s unclear whether the Senate has the votes to pass it because Sen. Joan Hartley, D-Waterbury, has said she would vote against raising it to $15 an hour. That means Democrats would need a Republican vote to pass it through the split chamber.
In 2016, the Senate attempted and failed to increase the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020.
The House bill this year would raise the state minimum hourly wage from $10.10 to $12 on Jan. 1, 2019; from $12 to $13.50 on Jan. 1, 2020; and from $13.50 to $15 on Jan. 1, 2021. Once the minimum wage reaches $15 in 2022, the bill indexes any future increases to annual increases in the consumer price index.
“Raising the minimum wage would have a negative impact on the thousands of workers in the restaurant industry,” Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, said.
“Connecticut’s minimum wage is already the ninth highest in the country,” Dolch said. He said hiking it at the rate the bill is proposing would “result in the loss of jobs and a raise in rates for consumers.”
Some listening at the press conference didn’t agree.
“While the $15 minimum wage may be a ‘distraction’ to corporate lobbyists at the CBIA, it is the difference for hundreds of thousands of hard-working people in our state between being able to support their families and falling into debt and dependence through no fault of their own,” said Carlos Moreno, state director of the CT Working Families Organization.
The business group also considers the Paid Family Medical Leave a business unfriendly concept.
The bill would require all private sector employees to contribute 0.5 percent of their paycheck to a fund that they could then use if they needed to take leave. The leave could last up to 12 weeks and the pay would be capped at up to $1,000 per week.
There would be no option for anyone to opt out of the program and it would apply to every employee, regardless of what their employer already offered for family and medical leave. The bill also would not apply to any municipal or state employees.
“Requiring smaller employers to offer 12 weeks of leave will be very difficult for those companies,” Wendy Traub, chair of National Federal of Independent Businesses, who owns a construction firm, said. “If a firm has just five employees, a fifth of the workforce could be out for months at a time.”
The original bill called for the state to borrow $20 million to help pay for the startup costs, but Aresimowicz said they have other ideas about how to make it work.
Aresimowicz declined to share exactly how he would handle the startup costs for the program because he didn’t want to give the opposition any help in defeating it.
“I’m confident we can figure it out,” he added.
On sexual harassment, the bill seeks to require businesses with three or more employees to provide them with training. Currently, the law requires training for supervisors at businesses with 50 or more employees. The bill would expand the training to all employees.
The business leaders said Connecticut already has some of the most stringent sexual harassment prevention laws in the nation.
“Connecticut businesses go to incredible lengths to ensure safe workplaces for employees, and are willing to do more,” Eric Gjede, CBIA counsel, said.
“However, we do need to keep in mind the costs of sexual harassment prevention training programs and modify legislation that seeks to impose excessive damages and liability on those employers are who are properly enforcing the law,” Gjede added.
Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, listened through the entire press conference and was dismayed by what she heard.
“I think it was appalling,” Porter said. She said when it comes to the minimum wage hike and Paid Family Medical Leave, all the proponents are asking for is a wage and leave plan “so people can earn not a good but a close to decent paycheck while still being able to take care of their dying parents.”
Both she and AFL-CIO President Lori Pelletier, who also attended the press conference, suggested that the business leaders could find the money to fund the bills being proposed in the tax cuts they just received from the recently passed federal tax overhaul championed by President Donald Trump.
“What I heard today is the same song and dance that I’ve heard for the last 30 years,” Pelletier said. “Nothing’s changed.”