Minimum Wage Proposal Passes Appropriations Committee

Apr 17, 2012

Another committee of the Connecticut legislature has approved plans to raise the state’s minimum wage. The appropriations committee passed the bill 29 to 20 on Friday afternoon. As the bill now makes its way to the full house, advocates are highlighting small businesses that support the measure. WNPR’s Harriet Jones reports.

Robin Pachula from New Britain worked minimum wage jobs for years while she raised her daughter as a single parent, and now in her 50s, she’s back working at minimum wage for a non-profit. She believes employers who pay the minimum rate just don’t understand what that means.

“I think it’s very hard sometimes for people to walk around in other people’s shoes. To understand that it’s not just side money, it’s not just a little extra cash. This money is for people to live on. The demands are crushing, just to be pulling in a minimum wage salary.”

Pachula was contacted by Connecticut Working Families and asked to speak out on the issue, as the battle continues over the minimum wage bill currently in the legislature. Many business organizations have lobbied against raising the wage this year, saying it represents an unfair burden on companies in tough economic times, but Kennard Ray of Connecticut Working Families says not all small businesses agree.

“There are responsible businesses, small businesses in this state, that are doing the right thing by their employees. Putting their employees first, making sure that their employees can make a fair and living wage.”

He says often the companies paying minimum wage are not the local high street businesses, but the large national or multinational chains.

“By and large it is a big business problem because big businesses – they’re looking at the dollar signs, they’re not looking at the families. Small businesses understand that your employee is your biggest asset, whereas big businesses, the Walmarts of the world, I don’t think they see the employees, they don’t recognize that their employees are their biggest asset.”

The legislation, backed by House Speaker Chris Donovan, would raise the wage by a dollar an hour over the next two years, and would then peg the wage to increase automatically with the cost of living. It’s that element that’s been particularly controversial, but small business owner Rondelynn Bell, who runs Niro Design Center in Hartford says she thinks it’s logical.

“I think they should take into account the cost of living and factor that in. The gas prices are going up, the housing market is going up, everything is going up, so it’s just natural that the pay rates should go up. We have to go up to survive.”

Bell was also tapped by Connecticut Working Families to give her views on the minimum wage. She says for many small businesses like hers raising the wage will not have an impact.

“We’ve always paid over the market rate. I’m not going to get into what we pay our employees, but we’ve always paid them above minimum wage. At the end of the day you get what you pay for. If we’re going to pay someone minimum wage, we’re going to get minimum wage work. Small businesses are trying to grow, so if you’re trying to grow you need people that have your back and are pushing just as hard as you’re pushing, so unless you’re going to value them and validate them for their efforts, they’re not going to go as hard as you are.”

Business groups such as the CBIA and NFIB disagree strongly saying that the effort to raise the wage is likely to lead to job losses and more economic hardship.

For WNPR, I'm Harriet Jones.