February 10, 2014

Differing takes on the minimum wage

Opinions vary in Central Connecticut on whether to require employers to increase pay for low wage workers, as Gov. Dannel Malloy proposed.
“This is good public policy. It’s good economic policy. And it’s the right thing to do,” Malloy said in his address to the General Assembly that urged an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 in 2017.
Some argue, though, that increasing the minimum wage will reduce the number of jobs and force consumers to pay more for goods and services.
The owner of New Britain’s East Side Restaurant, Nick Augustino, said everyone he hires gets more than the $8.25-an-hour minimum wage so the change wouldn’t matter to his bottom line.
“I really would like to know the businesses that pay their staffs minimum wage and get away with it,” Augustino said.
He said, though, that he likes the idea of having a minimum wage for entry level employees who are just learning their jobs. But after three months, Augustino said, it should go up.
Cary Gagnon, who owns 20 Dunkin’ Donuts in central Connecticut, said the minimum wage hike to $9-an-hour already slated to take effect next January “will probably have little effect on hiring.”
But, he said, the $10.10 rate sought by Malloy could have a negative impact on hiring at his stores.
The president of the Bristol-based Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce said the state is already raising the minimum wage by 9.1 percent this year and next year.
“That is fair and most businesses are able to absorb the increased expense into their future strategies without too much effect on growth,” Jim Albert said.
He said that going forward from there, hikes in the minimum wage “should be pegged to annual increases in the Consumer Price Index or some other standard measure of inflation, adjusted for our region.”
“This would take the issue out of the hands of politicians, reducing the amount of divisive energy and class warfare that goes into a lengthy political debate over minimum wage increases,” Albert said. “It would also free up our political leadership to focus on other important topics such as reducing our debt,” promoting good jobs and “career opportunities that could help make Connecticut more competitive and attractive in the global marketplace. “
Albert said that tying the increases to inflation would also “allow Connecticut businesses to predict their cost of doing business more accurately so they can build better strategies to grow our economy and improve our quality of life.”
Mike Petosa, president of the Bristol Labor Council, said that bringing people “to up to a good living wage” would be “a win-win” for businesses and employees.
He said the minimum wage “has been too low for too many years” and hiking it will give people more money to spend, pumping more cash into the economy.
“Earning power equals buying power,” Petosa said.
The head of the state’s largest AFL-CIO union, Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers, also strongly backed Malloy’s proposal.
The union’s executive director, Sal Luciano, said, “This is important both to reduce our state’s income gap — the second largest in the nation — and to retain young workers who are on the verge of leaving the state because wages haven’t kept up with the cost of living.”
The president of the Greater New Britain Chamber of Commerce, Tim Stewart, said there is “no argument people deserve a living wage, no question about it.”
But, he said, “politicians who just pander to folks” shouldn’t be the ones to deliver it. Business owners “should have control” of how much they can pay their employees, he said.
Stewart said the ramifications of hiking the minimum wage “can be quite substantial,” especially for service-oriented businesses, and will result in “an increased cost to the consumer.”
“In the end, we end up paying for it,” Stewart said.
Robert Perry, the owner of Fastsigns, a Bristol company, said he would like to see an increase in the minimum wage at the national level.
Perry said he’s found that those who earn minimum wage wind up with subsidized medical care, Food Stamps and other government help that taxpayers have to cover. It would be better, he said, to hike their pay so there would be less need for the extra help from the government.
“We pay for it up front” with higher prices or “we pay for it later with subsidized cost,” Perry said, but “either way we’re paying for it.”
Perry, whose own company pays “far more than minimum wage,” said his reservation about Malloy’s proposal is that it would encourage consumers to buy out-of-state because Connecticut costs would be higher. He said a national hike makes more sense.
The owner of the Zen Bar in Plainville, Giancarlo Garcia-Zimmitti, said he favors Malloy’s plan for hiking the minimum wage over time.
He said his restaurant has “already been progressive” about staying ahead of the minimum, but he knows there are other businesses that need some time to adjust.
Malloy’s proposal would increase the minimum wage to $9.15 an hour next January, then to $9.60 an hour in 2016 and then to $10.10 an hour in 2017. Whether the legislature will go along is uncertain.
Hiking the minimum more quickly than Malloy proposed would “the kiss of death” for some companies, Garcia-Zimmitti said, but easing into it should give businesses time to adjust.
A Quinnipiac University poll last spring found Connecticut residents backed an increase in the state minimum wage hike by a 75-22 margin.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

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