Hike in Minimum Wage Puts Latinos on Opposing Sides


Proponents of a minimum wage increase were at the State Capitol in February before a public hearing on the issue.
By Wayne Jebian
Kimberly Gomez-Francis, a 19-year-old resident of New Britain, is looking for her first full-time job. With less than a year of college, her options are limited but that doesn’t mean her expenses are. “I don’t live at home; I need to pay bills,” she said. “It would be good if the minimum wage went up because the amount of income can be saved up quicker.”
It’s people like Gomez-Francis whom will benefit from a proposed hike in Connecticut’s minimum wage, already among the 10 highest in the country, from $8.25 to $9.75 over two years. The proposed increase, SB387, while popular with their constituents, is pitting Latino legislators against Latino business groups and other industry associations.
“Usually the increase in the minimum wage should be proposed only when the economy is booming,” said Roberto Colon, treasurer of the Greater Stamford Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “The economy is still far from recovering and an increase in the minimum wage will affect negatively that growth.”
“Yes, it’s true that there are going to be some negative effects on some of the smaller mom-and-pops because this is more money coming out of their payroll,” acknowledged state Rep. Ezequiel Santiago (D-Bridgeport), a member of the Labor and Public Employees committee, which backed the increase along a party-line vote of 7-4 and sent it to the state Senate for consideration. “But those mom and pop/small businesses are actually a small percentage of the people that pay minimum wage,” he continued. “If you look at the numbers, Costco, McDonalds, those larger corporations … they are the larger percentage of minimum wage payers, and what we’re doing right now is basically allowing them to get away with this and subsidizing them. We have to take up the slack, paying the medical costs and other things of that nature while these companies are profiting billions of dollars. So, yes, a small percentage of the mom-and-pops will be negatively impacted, but all of our Connecticut minimum wage earners will be benefiting from that.”
According to Stan Sorkin, president of the Connecticut Food Association, the fixed amounts are unsustainably large for the grocery businesses he represents; in addition, he says that the automatic increase provision makes no sense. (After July 2015, increases would be tied to inflation increases in the Consumer Price Index.)
“The amount of 75 cents per year for the next two years translates to an 18 percent total increase in a 24-month period of time,” he calculated. “That would have a very negative effect on a grocery store’s operation in terms of major increased cost, not only in terms of the minimum wage, but it becomes a floor for every other wage in the supermarket.”
Regarding the automatic increases, Sorkin believes that lawmakers should have the option of taking current economic conditions into account when imposing this kind of a burden on businesses. “The cost of living increase would start … without a chance to analyze what effect would occur,” he said.
But the higher wage, while cutting into profits, would have one benefit for employers – employee longevity. Yadira Gonzalez, a 22-year-old receptionist who lives and works in Hartford, was asked what she thought would happen to businesses if a the minimum wage increase were passed. She said, “If they raised the minimum wage, employees would be able to stay with their [current] jobs a lot longer and be able to support their families a little better. I truly believe the only way to keep an employee is good pay … then that employer has a stable employee who would stay longer at that job.”
Rick Torres, the 2011 Republican Bridgeport mayoral candidate, said in a CT Post op-ed on Sunday, “Most folks believe that this law is a good effort in helping the poorest among us; however, the reality is that it has the opposite effect. The people most in need of a robust economy are the poor. Additionally, increasing the minimum wage will have an adverse affect on minorities.” Torres owns a restaurant/deli in Bridgeport.
Still, even among those who might be expected to support the minimum wage in better times, there is hesitation because of the current business climate. According to news reports, such voices include Governor Malloy and House Speaker Brendan Sharkey.
Photo (c) WTNH