Obama’s labor secretary brings minimum wage campaign to CT

U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez talks to Sujournel Durham and Josh Griffin. He is flanked by Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal.

CT Mirror

U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez talks to Sujournel Durham and Josh Griffin. He is flanked by Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal.

Hartford – U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez Monday brought the Obama administration’s campaign for a $10.10 minimum wage to Connecticut, where the congressional delegation and governor already are among the president’s strongest supporters on the issue.

With no congressional votes to win, a visit to highlight President Obama’s push for a higher minimum wage likely had multiple goals, including giving a measure of early re-election support to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who was seated next to Perez at a White House dinner for governors Sunday night.

“We’re learning from every visit that we take,” said Perez, who engaged in a roundtable talk at the Hartford Public Library with four low-wage workers from Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s and an education nonprofit. “It doesn’t matter if it’s Connecticut or it’s Alabama, these stories are compelling. We have to make sure we leave no person behind in this country.”

In Washington, where Malloy has been attending a meeting of the National Governors Association, Obama singled out Malloy last week as one of the governors poised to deliver on the goal of a $10.10 minimum wage. Malloy made the issue one of his priorities for 2014, proposing to raise the $8.70 minimum in steps to $10.10 by January 2017.

Perez, 52, a Harvard-educated former Justice Department official and son of Dominican immigrants, was a popular choice among unions to succeed Hilda Solis as labor secretary last year, though he was confirmed on a straight party-line vote. His audience Monday included Lori Pelletier, head of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, and Melodie Peters, president of a major public-employee union, AFT-Connecticut.

“The delegation is one audience, but so is the business community. Let’s be very blunt: Connecticut has some of the leading business leaders in the nation, and we’re talking to them today,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal said. “We’re asking them to follow the example of companies like Gap and do the right thing.”

“We are still speaking to the unconverted in Connecticut,” said Sen. Chris Murphy. “There’s some major businesses in Connecticut that without legislation can make the decision to increase wages. We’re not going to stop preaching to people in Connecticut who can make a difference here.”

The administration is trying to use states like Connecticut to help build the case for a divided Congress to raise the federal minimum for the first time since 2007, when President George W. Bush signed an increase into law.

“Connecticut is a leader,” Perez said. “This is going to spread across the country.”

Connecticut’s senators, both Democrats, hosted Perez and set up the roundtable with the four workers: Sujournel Durham and Kevin Burgos, who each work for Dunkin’ Donuts; Josh Griffin, an employee of McDonald’s; and Rashim Campbell, who has been working as a bus monitor since resigning as a Hartford police officer.

Each had a different story and different ambitions for moving to higher wage jobs. At least two them currently were paid more than the state minimum wage of $8.70, and Campbell’s job as a bus monitor paid him an hourly wage of $10.75, more than the minimums proposed by President Obama and Malloy.

Blumenthal asked what the increase would mean.

“It would help, but a little more would be better,” said Durham, who cradled her baby, the youngest of five. Her other children were ages 11 through 20.

Perez has seen his profile increase as a surrogate for the president since the administration has set increasing the minimum wage and reducing income inequality as priorities.

A recent Congressional Budget Office report said a $10.10 minimum wage could eliminate 500,000 jobs, while lifting 900,000 others from poverty and increase the wages of 16.5 million Americans.

Perez embraced portions of the report, noting that it debunks the notion that the minimum wage is earned primarily by teens. But he said economists vary widely on how a higher minimum would affect the economy.

“I am rather confident this can have a stimulus effect,” Perez said.

Perez was to tour a new Walgreen’s distribution center in Windsor with Murphy and Blumenthal later Monday.

“We want members of the Obama administration to come to Connecticut, have a connection to Connecticut,” Murphy said. “It’s really important to have people like Secretary Perez here to create that connection.”

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