HARTFORD, CT — After insisting on overriding a gubernatorial veto that would impact restaurants and restaurant workers House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz decided instead to work toward a compromise.
On Monday, Aresimowicz said he hopes the issue will get resolved in the next couple of weeks, but the legislature did not call themselves back into a future special session to deal with it.
“The longer this sits out there unresolved the more workers and employers get hurt,” Aresimowicz said.
He said they will be meeting with the governor’s office later this week.
The issue put the speaker at odds with his brothers and sisters in organized labor who believe the servers who sued restaurant owners through an estimated 12 class actions have a property right to the unpaid wages owed under Connecticut’s labor laws.
The legislation sought to retroactively change the law so that those lawsuits would get thrown out of court.
Aresimowicz said any action the legislature takes will likely be taken under advisement by the courts because it could take 12 to 15 months to get new regulations written.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said no compromise on the language has been reached, but they are working toward that.
“It’s a big issue,” Looney said.
He was less clear about how soon any compromise would be able to be reached.
The Connecticut Restaurant Association and its members were at the state Capitol Monday encouraging lawmakers to override the veto.
Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, said there’s a lot of uncertainty for restaurant owners who have been following the federal government’s 80/20 rule.
Those guidelines essentially say restaurant owners don’t need to keep track of all the sidework servers do when they’re not waiting on customers as long as they don’t spend more than 20 percent of their time on those tasks. Connecticut regulations say restaurants that don’t keep track of servers time spent on those side tasks will have to pay them the higher minimum wage for those hours.
Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said what’s clear is that the Department of Labor gave guidance through a booklet on its website that restaurants should follow the 80/20 rule.
“Restaurants relied upon the 80/20 interpretation,” Fasano said.
He said restaurants can argue the issue in court, but it will be costly and likely result in the closing of some restaurants.
Dolch said restaurants for the most part are small businesses and operate on very thin margins and these lawsuits will force some popular restaurants to close.
Gov. Ned Lamont vetoed the bill “because of the process that was followed in passing it and because it is an illegal attempt to retroactively deprive restaurant workers of their day in court. Restaurant workers across our state say they went to work under rules that promised them a higher wage than they were paid.”
Fasano said he doesn’t know how they will negotiate past the issue of retroactivity, but they could make the legislation prospective.
Fasano doesn’t believe the workers have a property right to the wages that would have applied under Connecticut law.
“I don’t think there is a property right,” Fasano said. “There’s no constitutional right to bring a lawsuit.”
Legislative leaders were meeting behind closed doors Monday to figure out a path forward.