Democrats implement agenda on which they ran

Democrats, elected last November to strong majorities in Connecticut’s House and Senate, are taking steps to implement the progressive labor agenda on which they campaigned. Smartly, Ned Lamont, the state’s businessman governor, has worked to balance these initiatives to mitigate adverse effects on the state’s businesses.

Such was the case with the minimum wage increase that Lamont signed into law on Tuesday.

As promoted by Gov. Lamont, and as advocated by this editorial board, the legislature adopted a gradual phase-in over several years, giving businesses time to adjust. An earlier version of the legislation would have jumped the hourly minimum wage, now $10.10, to $15 by 2022.

The bill signed by the governor implements the increase in five steps, beginning with a boost to $11 on Oct. 1 and culminating with a final step to $15 on June 1, 2023. Thereafter, to end this constant us-against-them debate, the minimum wage would be pegged to the Employment Cost Index, a federal wage growth calculation.

The law also distinguishes seasonal jobs as an entry point into the working world for teenagers. It allows for a wage 85 percent of minimum for workers ages 16 and 17 and who are employed for no more than 90 days.

Finally, it recognizes the tight operating margins in the food and entertainment industry, with a freeze on the minimum wage for workers traditionally dependent on tips, $6.38 for wait staff, $8.23 for bartenders.

Yes, the mandated increases will place a strain on some businesses, with small businesses particularly vulnerable. But that concern must be balanced against the reality that workers subject to the minimum wage increase are highly likely to invest it right back into the state’s economy.

Also, as noted at Tuesday’s signing ceremony by Laizer Kornwasser, president and chief operating officer of Carecentrix, better wages improve worker loyalty and provide a foundation for growth. Since implementing its own minimum of $15 for its home health care company five years ago, the Connecticut business has doubled its work and employees, he said.

Statistics belie the claim that the beneficiary will be largely young part-time workers who are not in need of a living wage. As noted by the Connecticut Mirror in its reporting, the Economic Policy Institute indicates that in this state 57 percent of minimum-wage workers are full-time employees, 37 percent are 40 or older and 28 percent have children.

As for concerns that that the minimum wage boost will accelerate the use of robots to replace workers in low-skill jobs, our expectation is that businesses will automate where it makes sense, regardless of the minimum wage. How society deals with increased automation and use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will be a major policy challenge in the years to come. But keeping human wages as low as possible to make people a better bargain than robots is not a sound strategy.

Debate now turns to the other major piece of social legislation — paid family leave. Using their 22-14 majority in the Senate, Democrats have passed legislation that would provide 12 weeks of wage replacement for workers who fall ill or need to care for a family member. A one-half of 1 percent payroll tax would create the fund to provide the replacement pay.

This social safety net is critical for today’s working families. A personal or health crisis should not toss a family into a financial crisis as well. That is bad for the economy, bad for business stability and bad for families. Better to have a fund, paid by workers, to provide a cushion.

But the governor has concerns with the legislation, as do we. It would create a new bureaucracy, the Paid Family and Medical Leave Authority, to administer the program. Contract this service out to the private insurance sector, which would be more efficient in administration and more objective in advocating for adjustments to make it work better.

Also, under the legislation, state and municipal union employees could opt out to negotiate better family leave under labor contracts. Why not likewise let businesses, if able to provide workers with a better plan using private insurance at no greater cost to their employees, also opt out and not have to make the payroll deduction?

Free-market purists will certainly decry the minimum wage boost and the move toward family leave as intrusions on the market’s ability to set wages and benefits. But the state had an election and a debate. These policies were major planks in the Democratic platform. And Democrats won, handily.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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