Legislative Session
9:16 pm
Tue February 18, 2014

Minimum Wage, Standard Wage Provoke Controversy at Labor Committee

State Rep. Richard Smith of the state's labor committee.
Credit CT-N

The legislature's labor committee had a full slate on Tuesday as it considered some controversial bills. The committee heard public testimony on a wide range of legislation, but among the most disputed were the proposal to further raise the minimum wage, and another bill that would force large corporations to pay a living wage. 

Business advocates said the measures would both lead to widespread wage inflation, which can't be absorbed by employers.

Kevin Burgos, who works at Dunkin Donuts in Hartford, has been campaigning for fair pay for fast food workers. He spoke in favor of both bills.

But business advocates said the measures would both lead to widespread wage inflation, which can't be absorbed by employers. The National Federation of Independent Business called the minimum wage proposal more of a fashionable political trend than a thoughtful economic policy.

Last year, the minimum wage provoked some sharp battles as legislation made its way through the state house and senate. After a victory for supporters of a raise, few on either side would have thought the issue would be back again so soon. It's on the agenda, as Governor Dannel Malloy said he wants to see the wage increase to $10.10 by 2017. Business advocates are once again preparing to fight.

"When you are increasing the minimum wage, you really are changing the amount of opportunities that there may be for the youth out there," said Bonnie Stewart of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. "We're already seeing higher youth unemployment in Connecticut than we've seen in a long time, and each time the minimum wage goes up, unfortunately, so does the percentage of unemployed youth."

The committee also considered a bill that would impose fines on big companies that don't pay their workers what's being termed a standard wage -- the median for that occupation. Its supporters, including the Working Families Party, said it would keep the state from having to provide subsidies for corporations in the form of Medicaid, and other assistance programs, when they don't pay a living wage.

Stewart said it's just another way to make Connecticut less business friendly. "This is a matter that, if this measure is adopted," she said, "would make Connecticut so much less competitive than we already are, and that's a big problem."

One bill the business community is keen to see passed is an adjustment to worker's comp cases, which attempts to set a standard for hospital fees when employers are footing the bill. In all, the Labor Committee is looking at 19 different bills.

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