HARTFORD, CT — House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz said the House plans to attempt to override Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont’s veto of HB 5001.
“It was our most important bill of the year,” Aresimowicz said Tuesday in a phone interview.
The bill, titled “An Act Requiring a Study of Workforce Training Needs in the State,” did two things. It amended the existing workforce training authority and it changed labor law regarding restaurant workers.
The bill sought to help restaurant owners who pay their servers and bartenders one wage for waiting on customers and another when they are doing other chores like rolling silverware.
State law requires restaurant owners to pay the higher wage or the minimum wage if they fail to keep track of the time for the various chores, but federal law says to pay the lower wage. Restaurant owners who were following the federal law have been hit recently with class actions.
The bill would have instructed to courts that have awarded employees who were not paid properly under state law to retroactively give up their right to collect the unpaid wages.
The labor community applauded Lamont’s veto.
“Governor Lamont did the right thing for working people by vetoing HB 5001,” Juan Hernandez, vice president of 32BJ, said. “The complex changes in restaurant worker wage law tacked onto this workforce training bill could have potentially hurt low-wage restaurant employees.”
The Connecticut Restaurant Association advocated for the legislation and was disappointed by the veto.
“Due to Governor Lamont’s decision to veto House Bill 5001, restaurants across Connecticut will continue to have to worry about the future of their employees and their businesses,” Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, said in a statement. “This legislation, which was co-sponsored by over 80 legislators and passed both Chambers unanimously, sought to codify the long-time practices of the Department of Labor. To say we are disappointed is an understatement.”
Aresimowicz, who works for AFSCME Council 4, said it doesn’t make sense to put restaurants who employ people out of business, which he believes would happen if the legislation doesn’t pass.
“We’re creating jobs in one place and getting rid of jobs elsewhere,” Aresimowicz said.
He said the court should have an opportunity to weigh in, Aresimowicz said, adding that if someone wants to challenge the retroactivity of the bill then they can do that.
In his veto message, Lamont said the retroactive provision in the bill was problematic.
“This retroactive attempt to extinguish a worker’s right to recover wages in an amount lawfully required and earned is patently unfair to the affected workers,” Lamont wrote in his veto message. “It also raises serious due process and other constitutional concerns.”
Aresimowicz said that should then be allowed to play out in the judicial system.
“As a small business owner myself, I uniquely understand the impact these types of lawsuits could have on business operations and productivity,” Lamont said. “But this is not the way to solve for this concern. The idea that government can seize someone’s property or wages on a whim is wholly un-American and most likely unconstitutional. That’s not pro-business, that’s not smart business, that’s bad business.”
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said he hasn’t discussed the vetoes with his caucus yet because they are House bills. That means the House would need to override them first before they go to the Senate. If it looks like that will happen, then the Senate will have to address it.
Lamont vetoed two other bills, but Aresimowicz said it’s unlikely they would override them.