While Connecticut took a small step in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s march towards having the state’s minimum wage increased to $10.10 per hour, the bill is not being greeted with open arms by all in the state’s Latino community.
Richard DeJesus, president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Bridgeport, agrees that an increase could help low-wage workers and many in the minority community, but a $1.40 per hour increase he says will burden businesses too much in the current economy. “We have to strive for government participation without getting too far ahead of ourselves and hurting the economy,” DeJesus said.
The chamber intends to take an official public stance in the next few weeks on the issue after studying what impact the increase would have on their members. DeJesus said the chamber will be looking into how this will affect businesses when it comes to all the factors that go along with a wage increase, such as having to pay more for insurance and unemployment taxes.
“The last time it increased was different. This is a substantial raise,” DeJesus said.
A public hearing was held recently on the bill, which calls for an incremental increase in the state’s minimum wage each year until it reaches $10.10 in January of 2017. The state’s current minimum wage is $8.70.
Senator Terry Gerratana, D-New Britain/Berlin, and vice chair of the Labor and Public Employees Committee, supports the measure, which is a part of the governor’s budget recommendations. “I see it as a quality of life issue,” Gerratana said. “Anything we can do to raise the quality of life, I’m for.”
Gerratana says large businesses are not paying a “living wage,” the government often has to provide minimum wage workers with state services to survive. She said this, in effect, means the government is essentially subsidizing these businesses.
While Gerratana understands that small businesses are concerned over the increase, she said that many businesses are already paying close to what the proposal would mandate. Additionally, the increases are happening over the next few years, easing the burden. “Keeping in mind the costs for small businesses, it’s always a trade off for quality of life and to be able to afford what you need,” Gerratana said.
However, Connecticut businesses owners and advocates see the bill as being counterproductive to the economy, which could lead to higher unemployment.
“A $10.10 minimum wage would give Connecticut the highest minimum wage in the country, which does not help our state shed the perception of being a high cost of living state,” Eric Gjede, assistant counsel for CBIA, said in submitted testimony to the Labor Committee.
Gjede added that a measure like this would put Connecticut at an economic disadvantage. “Most of our neighboring states have a minimum wage of $8 per hour or less, making them considerably more competitive than Connecticut.”
Supporters of SB 32 contend though that minimum wage workers simply cannot survive on the state’s current rate, let alone make progress.
“My dream job is to become a teacher, but in order to do that, I have to go to school,” Briana Fernandez, a Manchester resident, said in submitted testimony. “Making the current minimum wage doesn’t give me the chance to save up to go to school, never mind moving out of my parents house, or getting my drivers license and a vehicle,” Fernandez said.
SB 32, formally known as An Act Concerning Working Families’ Wages, needs to pass the Labor and Public Employees Committee first before there is even a chance that it will be voted on in the Senate or House.
Majority leadership in both the House and Senate support Gov. Malloy’s proposal and were the formal introducers of SB 32.