HARTFORD, CT —The legislature’s expanded Democratic majority had advocates in favor of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour buzzing with excitement Thursday.
“This has been a long time coming,” Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, a staunch advocate for raising the minimum wage said at a press conference before the start of the Labor and Public Employees Committee’s public hearing. “I’m so excited.”
Porter is the co-sponsor of a bill that would raise the minimum wage from its current $10.10 to $15 an hour by January of 2022.
Gov. Ned Lamont has his own bill to increase the minimum wage to $15 — but his bill would take a year longer than to get to that goal, not hitting the $15 mark until January of 2023.
At the press conference, Porter and Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, who co-chair the committee, were joined by workers currently earning minimum wage, labor leaders and economists to make the case that Connecticut’s time has come.
“It was five years ago this month that Connecticut passed a $10.10 hourly minimum wage to take effect by 2017,” Kushner said. “At that time, that was great, that was the highest in the nation. Now Connecticut badly lags behind our neighbors: Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont all have higher minimum wages than Connecticut.”
The committee’s bill seeks to raise Connecticut’s hourly minimum wage to $12 an hour by Jan. 1, 2020; $13.50 in 2021; and $15 in 2022, with future increases automatically tied to any rise in the consumer price index.
Lamont’s bill seeks to increase the wage to $11.25 by Jan. 1, 2020; $12.50 in 2021; $13.75 in 2022; $15 an hour by 2023, and ties increases to the employment cost index. His bill mirrors Massachusetts’ schedule.
“This legislation is long overdue and will help bring much-needed revenue back into the state economy by putting more disposable income into the pocket of workers — money that goes back into our communities and produces more revenue for the state,” Porter said.
“A higher minimum wage also will bring more dignity into the workplace,” Porter said. “The cost of everything — rent, utilities, food, clothes — has risen and minimum-wage workers, some whom are supporting families, are fighting and barely making ends meet.”
Kyra Franklin of East Hartford lives on the minimum wage working at Wendy’s. Franklin wants to go to college to become a teacher. But it’s hard to pay the bills making the current minimum wage.
“The problem is I have tons of bills and loan debt trying to put myself through school,” Franklin said.
Connecticut AFL-CIO President Sal Luciano said the $10.10 minimum wage is “almost criminal” and that anyone making that wage is destined to live in poverty. He said getting to $15 an hour was a “key first step” but only the beginning of fighting for better pay for workers.
Speaking to the often repeated statement that raising the minimum wage significantly would hurt businesses, Economic Policy Institute economist David Cooper played down that mantra.
“The minimum wage has been raised hundreds of times over the years and the sky has not fallen,” Cooper said.
State Comptroller Kevin Lembo submitted written testimony backing all the minimum-wage proposals.
“Recent studies by the University of California at Berkley have found that cities that have begun to increase their minimum wage toward $15 an hour have not experienced job losses in the food and hospitality sector, the largest economic center impacted by the minimum wage hike,” Lembo said.
The studies Lembo cited also found that increased wages increase spending in the local economy and “the higher wages will increase market participation, making it easier for employers to fill open positions and expanding the state’s total labor force,” Lembo said.
But the bills have opposition.
Connecticut Business and Industry Association Vice President Eric Gjede said in written testimony that the annual hike in the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022 or 2023 is too much for business to bear.
“The proposed rate of increases are significant new costs for businesses to bear,” Gjede said. “These increases, $1.90 in the first year and $1.50 in each the two years thereafter, are far higher than the average $0.30 increases to the minimum wage routinely implemented in the past.”
Gjede asked the committee to oppose the bill, but asked that if members decide to hike the minimum wage, that they spread the increases over six or seven years, instead of three.
Gjede told the committee that the “best way to help individuals in entry-level and low-skilled jobs is to stop adding costs to employers.”
The Connecticut Food Association also weighed in in opposition, saying the bills try to do too much, too fast.
“The accelerated rate at which this proposed bill increases wages to $15 does not allow for retailers to absorb these costs efficiently,” President Wayne Pesce testified. “We do support a six-year implementation of the state’s minimum wage with no CPI indexing.”
Rep. David Rutigliano, R-Trumbull, said one issue he had with a $15-an-hour minimum wage is that it might take away some workers’ ambition to progress.
“How difficult is it to get to the third rung of the ladder if we’re going to sit there and take the first two rungs out?” Rutigliano said.
Committee co-chairs Porter and Kushner were asked if they were concerned about the time difference reaching $15 an hour a year earlier than the governor’s proposal.
“We are in discussions with the governor’s office,” Porter said. “There is plenty of room for negotiation.”
The committee’s deadline to act on the bill is March 26.