Saturday, February 18, 2017

Workers And Allies Join Lesser, Other Lawmakers In Support Of Minimum Wage, Family Leave Bills

Rep. Matthew Lesser (D-Middletown), Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney (D-New Haven) and other Democratic lawmakers joined dozens of workers and their advocates Thursday in support of legislation that would increase the minimum wage and provide for some time off from work so employees can care for sick family members. 

“The family medical leave bill is the most important legislation the General Assembly will consider this year,” said Lesser, a co-sponsor of the legislation.

“With this legislation, we have an opportunity to make a really meaningful impact on the lives of people around the state, and I am thrilled to join Senator Looney in taking a leadership role on this bill. I’m sure that when businesses take a close look at the details of this issue, they’ll see there’s no conflict between being pro-family and pro-business. In fact, economists believe that when we help families by boosting their earning power, we in turn help the economy grow. Slow wage growth has hurt the economy, and this is legislation will help families and spur economic growth,” Lesser said.     

“Requiring a sufficient minimum wage in the State of Connecticut is not a luxury,” said Looney, a co-sponsor of the $15 an hour minimum wage bill, SB 13, and the Paid Family and Medical Leave bill, SB 1. “It is a critically important issue for thousands upon thousands of Connecticut families. For parents trying to make ends meet, for single moms working two or three jobs just to provide basic necessities for their children, there may be no more important, pressing issue than earning a fair, adequate and ‘livable’ wage,” he said.

“The inability of employees to take paid time off to care for loved ones or themselves can leave them with no choice but to abandon family members in their time of need, or to neglect their own health,” Senator Looney continued. “Working families should not have to face the prospect of economic ruin when presented with serious family needs such as caring for a newborn, a spouse, or their parents.”

“This all boils down to one thing: ensuring that people in this state who are working, putting in their hours, are not struggling to provide for themselves and for their families,” said Senator Ed Gomes (D-Bridgeport) Senate co-chair of the General Assembly’s Labor Committee.  Raising the minimum wage to a livable $15 hourly pay will help thousands of Connecticut workers achieve the independence and financial security they desire.”

The gradual increase to a $15 an hour minimum wage would allow Connecticut to keep pace with other states and cities throughout the nation. New York State has already passed legislation – in an overwhelmingly bipartisan manner – to incrementally raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022 in the highest-cost areas of the state, with fast food workers in New York City going up to $15 an hour almost immediately, in 2018.

California and Washington, D.C. also have enacted gradual increases to $15 an hour, as has Seattle, Washington. Moreover, many other states – while not yet slated to go to $15 an hour – are already above Connecticut’s existing minimum wage of $10.10 an hour, and they are slated to go higher. Connecticut’s neighbor, Massachusetts, currently has an $11 hourly minimum wage, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is advocating strongly for Boston to increase that to $15 an hour. Oregon is slated to go to $13.50 an hour by 2022, while Maine, Arizona and Colorado are slated to increase to $12 an hour by 2020.

The Connecticut Low-Wage Employer Advisory Board issued a report in December 2016 stating that least 20 percent of Connecticut’s workforce – at least 336,000 workers – currently earn less than $15 an hour. In some of our poorest cities and towns, the percentages are far greater. In Hartford, for example, it is estimated that the majority of workers – 53 percent – earn less than that. Moreover, according to the Advisory Board, the sub-$15 hourly workforce is disproportionately female, African American, and Latino.

A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston (which is referenced in the Advisory Board report) estimates that in Connecticut, more than a third of female workers, 43 percent of African-American workers, and 52 percent of Latino workers earn less than $15 an hour. Another study referenced in the report paints a far starker picture when it comes to female workers in Connecticut. According to a study conducted jointly by the Economic Policy Institute and CT Voices for Children, women comprise nearly 60 percent of Connecticut workers who would directly benefit from increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The Advisory Board report also notes that an oft-cited misconception about minimum wage workers in Connecticut – that most of them are teenagers looking for spending money – is untrue.  Instead, the report significantly notes that the majority of Connecticut workers who earn less than $15 per hour are actually the primary breadwinners in their families.

That is borne out by the Federal Reserve study, which states that “the typical worker making less than $15 per hour is in her mid 30’s.” The CT Voices/EPI analysis found that 90 percent of the workers who would benefit from a $15 hourly minimum wage are 20 years old or older. And according to the Federal Reserve study, nearly a third of the sub-$15 an hour workers in Connecticut are parents with children, and that a majority of them are the  primary earners in their families.

On the issue of paid family medical leave, according to the 2016 Institute for Women’s Policy Research report “Implementing Paid Family Medical Leave Insurance [in] Connecticut,” only 13 percent of workers have access to paid family leave through their employers, and fewer than 40 percent have access to personal medical leave through employer-provided short-term disability insurance.

Too many families have to make difficult decisions when dealing with an illness or experiencing the joy of welcoming a new child into their homes,” said Senator Mae Flexer (D-Danielson). “The time is now for Connecticut to catch up with the rest of the world and our neighboring states. Paid Family leave will not only make our state a more compassionate place, it will make us more competitive economically.  Young workers want to work in places that support their family lives.  This policy is key to keeping young workers and entrepreneurs in our state.”

“Taking care of a loved one, whether it’s an elderly parent, a newborn baby, or an ill child, is truly one of the most difficult and burdensome responsibilities any parent or family member will ever take on” said Senator Marilyn Moore (D-Bridgeport). “And while there many people in this state who are doing it every day, lovingly and with open hearts because they care for that person, the fact is that there are many who are struggling for taking on that responsibility. You had to leave your job. You had to reduce your hours and take a pay cut. All because someone in your family was in need, and you stepped up to be there for them. This decision is never an easy one, but it should never be reliant on whether or not you can afford to do it.”

“Maintaining our current system of unpaid leave for workers who need to take time off for a new child or care for a loved one is simply not enough, and is often completely out of reach for families who cannot afford to lose income,” said Senator Cathy Osten (D-Sprague), who serves as Vice Chair of the General Assembly’s Labor Committee. “For many, it’s a double edged sword – either you lose your income, or you spend it on outside care. It should not be that way, and as we have seen in other states, it does not have to be.”

“Paid family and medical leave has gained significant traction in the Connecticut legislature over the past three years, and is primed for passage in 2017,” said Maddie Granato, policy manager for the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund. “Employees who need to care for themselves or a close family member should not fall into economic ruin because of events that will occur at least once in every worker’s lifetime.  A stronger minimum wage and supportive workplace policies together will improve economic security for women and working families.”

“Taking care of a parent or loved one is a fundamental family value, and working family caregivers should not face loss of pay – or their job – when they need to take time off from work to care for an aging parent or relative,” said AARP CT State Director Nora Duncan.

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