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Union targets Connecticut as battleground in “Fight for $15”

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Connecticut is one of the epicenters of the $70 million campaign to pressure states and municipalities to raise the minimum wage to $15, despite the damaging effects that a steep minimum wage increase would have on workers.

The money for the “Fight for $15” campaign comes from the dues of members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which in Connecticut represents many state employees, as well as health care and food service workers.

A state board, the Connecticut Low Wage Employer Advisory Board, whose membership includes an SEIU director, will hold a hearing in Bridgeport next week on whether or not the state should raise its minimum wage.

Lawmakers created the board in 2015 using the bill that implemented the state budget. The board is housed in the Department of Labor.

Last year, several members of the board spoke up in favor of the Working Class Tax, which taxed employers $1 per hour tax for every hour worked by a person earning less than $15 an hour. (The taxes would go to the state treasury, not to the worker.)

This year the board will spend its “time and resources… focused on the issue of raising the Minimum Wage,” according to the minutes of the April 21 meeting.

Connecticut was the first state to schedule its minimum wage to go over $10 an hour. Currently the minimum wage is $9.60 an hour, and it is set to rise to $10.10 an hour in January 2017. A $15 per hour minimum wage would be a 49 percent increase over the current Connecticut minimum wage.

While the “Fight for $15” movement gains traction nationwide, a survey of 166 labor economists – about 60 percent of whom were Democrats – showed that a majority believe a $15 minimum wage would have negative effects on employment. Of those surveyed, 83 percent said a $15 minimum wage would have a negative effect on youth employment, and 67 percent said they believe a $15 minimum wage will make it harder for small businesses to survive.

Most of Connecticut’s residents living in poverty would not be affected by a minimum wage increase, since 61 percent of working age adults in Connecticut who are poor do not work at all, according to testimony by Michael Saltsman with the Employment Policies Institute.

Restaurants, bookstores and daycares are just a few of the businesses that have already had to close, cut staff, or raise prices because of minimum wage increases in places like New York, California and Seattle. Their stories can be found on www.Facesof15.com.

All jobs are important. Entry level jobs – which is what minimum wage jobs should be – provide people with a chance to enter the labor market. As Michael Strain, an economist at American Enterprise Institute, put it recently: “A job is about more than a paycheck. It is about more than productivity and adding to the national income. Working is central to the flourishing life.”

Instead of focusing on raising the minimum wage, state policies should promote work, and should clear a path for the formation and growth of small businesses. Policymakers should also encourage individuals to get the education and training they need so they can support themselves and their families.

A hearing on raising the minimum wage in Connecticut, hosted by the Connecticut Low Wage Employer Advisory Board, will be held in the City Council Chambers in Bridgeport on Wednesday July 20, from 6-8 p.m. Testimony can be submitted online to [email protected].


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