Supporters of the minimum wage celebrate in the Senate gallery after passage at nearly 3 a.m. keith m. phaneuf / ctmirror.org
A staffer, Courtney Cullinan, confers with Sen. Julie Kushner during the minimum wage debate. mark pazniokas / ctmirror.org

Connecticut’s minimum-wage workers will see their hourly wages rise from $10.10 to $15 over the next four-and-a-half years under legislation passed early Friday by the Senate and sent to Gov. Ned Lamont for his promised signature. 

The final passage by the Senate on a party-line vote of 21-14 delivers on the first of two major labor bills promised by Democrats in campaigns that won the governor’s office and produced strong legislative majorities for the party in 2018, the other being a paid family and medical leave bill that is tentatively scheduled for a vote next week.

“All these combined are going to make a huge difference in people’s lives,” said Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, who unseated a conservative Republican last year. She led the debate as the co-chair of the Labor and Public Employees  Committee.

As was the case last week in an overnight debate in the House, the parties sharply split over whether the raises will provide an overdue boost to 332,000 low-wage workers or another blow to small businesses in a state with a weak economy. The senators also debated overnight, beginning at 8:22 p.m. Thursday and finishing more than six hours later.

For Kushner, bringing out the bill was a moment for a celebration, a reward for spending the first months of her retirement in a campaign for the Senate.

“I have to say it’s a great honor for me to be standing here in this chamber bringing to you the new minimum wage bill,” said Kushner, a former UAW regional executive. “I have spent my entire life fighting on behalf of workers, and it’s an incredible honor to now be in a position to lift the wages of so many of our state’s workers and get them closer to what would be a living wage.”

Kushner’s victory was one of several that made the vote possible. Democrats now control the Senate, 22-14, after two years with an 18-18 split. Sen. Steve Cassano, D-Manchester, who recently had surgery, was absent.

“I think this clears the decks for paid family leave,” said Jonathan Dach, the gubernatorial aide leading negotiations for the administration. Dach and legislators said there is an agreement on all key issues, and Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said he expects to schedule a vote next week.

With the support of a Republican governor, Massachusetts passed legislation last year that established a paid family and medical leave program and a schedule of minimum wage increases that will reach $15 in 2023, the same year as Connecticut. Lamont issued a statement Friday reiterating his intent to sign the bill as soon as it hits his desk.

“With this increase in minimum wage, thousands of hardworking women and men – many of whom are supporting families – will get a modest increase that will help lift them out of poverty, combat persistent pay disparities between races and genders, and stimulate our economy,” Lamont said.

The Connecticut bill sets a schedule for five raises, one for 90 cents and four for $1. The $10.10 hourly minimum will go to $11 on Oct. 1, $12 on Sept. 1, 2020, $13 on Aug. 1, 2021, $14 on July 1, 2022 and $15 on June 1, 2023. Subsequently, the minimum wage would be pegged to the Employment Cost Index, a measure of wage growth calculated by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

At Lamont’s insistence, the bill has two provisions favored by business: a sub-minimum training wage for workers ages 16 and 17, who could be paid 85 percent of the state minimum for up to 90 days; and a freeze on the minimum wage for tipped workers, $6.38 for wait staff and $8.23 for bartenders.

The General Assembly last passed a minimum-wage increase in 2014, scheduling two raises of 45 cents and one of 50 cents. That bill raised a $8.70 minimum wage — then the second-highest in New England and fourth-highest nationally — to $9.15 in 2015, $9.60 in 2016 and $10.10 in 2017.

Supporters of the minimum wage celebrate in the Senate gallery after passage at nearly 3 a.m. keith m. phaneuf / ctmirror.org

Democrats and Republicans disagreed Thursday night and Friday morning on what a higher minimum wage would do to the economy and who currently makes the minimum. Many Republicans see it as a wage primarily paid to teens and other entry-level workers, a stopping place on an upward journey. 

A majority of workers paid the federal minimum of $7.25, a rate exceeded by the state minimums of every northeastern state except New Hampshire, are young and part-time workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But advocates of a $15 minimum say the picture in Connecticut and other states with higher minimums is far different.

Research by the Economic Policy Institute indicates that 57 percent of minimum-wage workers overall are full-time employees, 37 percent are 40 or older and 28 percent have children. 

Democrats rose to tell their stories.

Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, choked back tears describing his single mother’s efforts to provide for him and their family. Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, talked about her own family’s struggles in eastern Connecticut, choosing which bills to pay. It is an all too common story, she said.

“Those are the people we’re fighting for,” Flexer said.

Sen. Alex Bergstein, D-Greenwich, another freshman who unseated a Republican last year, said the bill would reduce by half the number of women living in poverty in Connecticut.

“That would be an amazing achievement,” Bergstein said.

Sen. Joan Hartley, a fiscally conservative Democrat from Waterbury, said afterward she had considered opposing the bill but ultimately backed it because of advocates’ willingness to phase the minimum wage increase over a 4 1/2 year period. An earlier version of the bill had proposed three years.

“That was a massive change,” she said. “I was pleased with the concessions that were made.”

Republicans responded with dire and even angry predictions that the bill will backfire, costing jobs and harming the intended beneficiaries. Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, said the bill imposes “a steep increase that’s not founded in science or research,” but is “a campaign  slogan masking as public policy.”

“You know what fixes poverty?” Sampson said. “Not an artificial minimum wage that will not work, because business owners will not pay more than a job is worth.”

Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, whose mother raised him and four brothers after the death of their father, said he, too, grew up poor, working minimum-wage jobs as a teenager. But he also is a businessman, the owner of Flanders Fish Market, a restaurant that employs its share of single mothers.

His voice level,  Formica said there are many ways to care for low-wage workers, and one of them is to assure the availability of jobs.

“I hate that this is turning into a party conversation,” not one about people, Formica said. “We all have stories like Sen. Winfield and Sen. Flexer and me.”

Kushner is embraced by Sen. Mary Daugherty Abrams after passage. keith m. phaneuf / ctmirror.org

Sen. John A. Kissel, R-Enfield, was endorsed by the union-funded Working Families Party in 2008, as was Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven. But no Republican has voted to raise the minimum wage since the Great Recession of 2008, and Kissel said the time for a raise still has not come.

“I don’t think our state at this point in time can afford this. Right now the businesses are talking to me, saying they are barely making it, please do whatever you can to try to stop this,” Kissel said, predicting job losses from the wage increase. “If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. But I’ve been around here long enough to say that sometimes bills with the best of intentions have unintended negative consequences.”

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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35 Comments

  1. Not one person who voted for this bill knows if it will increase job LOSSES. That is a fact, no one knows that, so the unintended consequences, especially to small business are completely unknown. Yet, there is no flexibility to change the bill other than to pass even more legislation. CT becomes more like an Ayn Rand novel every day.

    Common sense tells us that small business owners will ALWAYS choose to remain in business for as long as possible and variable costs like wages MUST be flexible but this ensures layoffs instead of cuts. So regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the principles of the minimum wage increases, they HAVE NOT BEEN proven to change the economic laws of supply and demand.

    Why are Democrat politicians not being honest about this? The truth is they really do not know what the unintended consequences of their actions are but this does not stop them from passing more legislation that makes us less competitive.

  2. A formidable economic literature suggests raising minimum wages for some employees will not generate offsetting economic growth. Just as raising taxes doesn’t generate economic growth. But this CT where the usual understanding of economics is held in abeyance. So its not surprising that the proponents of this legislation have not provided info on expected net benefits to CT. Which suggests that they actually do understand the basic economics involved. Sigh.

  3. So in CT many of the jobs available are minimum wage jobs. This comparatively low-wage employment is all that many adults, including people with families, are able to obtain.
    That’s a negative statement about the state’s economy. Businesses can’t afford expensive hires. And this legislation makes hiring more expensive.

  4. The article states Senator Kushner became a senator shortly after retiring as a UAW executive. I will guarantee she has never run a business small or large and literally has no clue of the damage she has caused on the small business environment in Connecticut. Senator Looney makes the comical statement that former increases in the minimum wage have been absorbed by the business community without concern. Meanwhile, Senator Looney, the State economy has experienced little job growth since the recession, is rated in the bottom 5 states in which to do business, is still 20% below pre-recession employment levels, has impoverished cities with no end in site, and is experiencing a population decline. Senator Looney has his head in the sand.

    1. Senator Looney and his counter part Rep. Aresimowicz are directly responsible for major issues during Gov. Malloy negotiations with GE. Both, made snide remarks that corporate executives should stop complaining about new corporate state taxes because they may have to take a weekend away from their private planes and yachts (I paraphrase) so the rest of us can buy groceries. Republicans and (and Gov. Malloy) were furious at them for saying something so stupid in PUBLIC TO THE PRESS at exactly the wrong time. Sen. Looney refused to apologize and doubled down by saying the “GE was not going anywhere”.

      Jeff Immelt made the decision top leave soon thereafter – even though many corporate executives had made the argument that GE could easily build a tech center in Boston without uprooting the HQ where executives had excellent AirPort access from Sikorsky.

      I post this to remind everyone of who we are really dealing with – these are “leaders” of the Democrat party.

  5. Asides from small businesses, I don’t even want to imagine how this is going to affect non profit organizations like Goodwill, or The Salvation Army even. I especially think of what The Salvation Army’s Kettles effort will be like across the State as the increases are implemented.

    Both agencies hire, for lack of better terminology, people who tend to be un-employable-do to a variety of reasonings, including education level, physical abilities, or disabilities, or even substance abuse recoveries–and they both do their darnest to get these employees to be suitably employed. This new bill is going to seriously deflect that program. So just exactly how will this improve livelihood–if these non profits, and others like them, can’t afford to give a person a livelihood to begin with???

  6. Whatever people might think of this and paid family/medical leave as policies, what is striking is that this debate and the adoption of these policies is taking place in a complete absence of any discussion of why Connecticut’s economy has performed so poorly in the last decade–shrinking almost 10% through 2017 before finally registering very modest growth (measured in real, inflation adjusted terms) in 2018. Connecticut employment and real output are still well below where they were in 2008, despite all of our neighboring states fully recovering in both employment and output. Connecticut is an anomaly–and no one in the Legislature seems to be aware of or interested in understanding why. More critically, neither party shows any interest in figuring out how to restore Connecticut’s economic vitality and competitiveness. Is there a single policy on the table to “bend the curve” of our economy? I am not aware of one.

    1. Three words: public service unions.

      They buy and control the governor and the GA. Every bill, tax and spending initiative is to please them.

      That’s why.

  7. In 2015 the Congressional Budget Office reported that as little as 7 percent of the net change in pay brought by a $15 minimum wage goes toward those in poverty. Nearly half of the pay change goes to workers in households earning more than three times the poverty line; 13 percent goes to households earning more than six times the line.

    Higher minimum wages also tend to eliminate entry-level jobs. Though not glamorous, low-wage jobs allow inexperienced workers to develop skills and establish a work history that allows them to move on to higher-paying jobs.

    However as minimum wages rise and jobs are eliminated from the marketplace those who aspire to better their lives are robbed of opportunities for critical experience to develop job skills and prove themselves worthy of promotion.

    Minimum wage increases are the product of good intentions, but destroying job prospects is no way to help the poor.

    1. Well stated. Minimum wage hikes secure the votes of those positively affected. Those loosing their jobs or never securing jobs because of the higher labor costs can only look upwards to heaven for their solace. CT’s impoverished major cities have remained impoverished with few good jobs outside local government for 50 years. So not much assistance from higher minimum wage.

  8. Here’s the economic growth strategy of the Democrats:

    1. Tolls
    2. Elimination of sales tax exemptions
    3. No material cuts to the state budget
    4. Paid sick leave costing all employees 1% of their pay
    5. Raise minimum wage (an unfunded mandate to many and a job killer)
    6. Push unfunded retirement liabilities to future generation- tripling its cost
    7. Significant pay increases for state union workers
    8. Protect illegals in a sanctuary state

    If it isn’t obvious, this is a going out of business plan for Connecticut. Keep electing these folks and bear witness to the demise of our once great state.

      1. Please advise what is the correct term for people who break our federal laws for being in this country.

      2. There are several terms that are commonly used and accepted to describe people “who break our federal laws for being in this country” that don’t rob them of their humanity. Feel free to use the term “undocumented immigrant.”

      3. Thank you. However, the label regarding legality does not reflect on the humanity of a person. I currently am in Poland using an American passport. If I stay here beyond the terms of the Polish government, I will be breaking their laws. It has nothing to do with my humanity and is a simple concept. It would seem this type of law breaking would be analogous to the same activity in the US. But thank you for responding as this dialog is essential in finding a safer and more humane America.

      4. Referring to an individual as “illegal” is legally inaccurate. Federal immigration law generally declares unlawful unauthorized presence in the U.S. a CIVIL violation – though entering the country illegally is classified as a federal misdemeanor. Some 40 percent of immigrants entered the U.S. legally through a visa obtained for work, study, or tourism and simply remained in the U.S. after their visa expired.

        Also, see AP stylebook’s guidelines regarding the use of the term “illegal.” Their notion is that while people may commit illegal acts, people are not illegal: https://www.copyediting.com/from-the-ap-stylebook-writing-about-immigration/#.XOFgh45Kg2w

      5. You state that it is legally inaccurate, which i do not agree with. It is a term of status. Would it be different if we stated an alien who is not here legally? Now we are just playing semantics

      6. It would seem that we are approaching a day in this country when feelings mean more than borders and laws. It certainly seems that way in Connecticut now given the recent legislation. This situation, like our state and Federal budgets, will not end well for this country.

      7. Up until a few years ago, the term “illegal alien” was used to describe people in this country illegally. Then, as is often the case, the PC police on the left decided to soften the term but it doesn’t change the circumstance of these folks. I would argue that opening the flood gates to more undocumented lawbreakers has made this country less secure and put legal citizens at more risk. How humane is it to let these people into our country illegally or overstay their visas when we have a line of people trying to enter legally? Our “humanity” is overtaking national security and logic in protecting those who are here legally. But of course, political correctness is the weapon of the left to subvert differing opinions and sound national policies.

      8. Please let me know a thought-police approved term I can use to describe someone whose first act in this country was to enter it illegally.

      9. We are not trying to police your thoughts. We are trying to keep language that we deem offensive or inaccurate off of our platform. You don’t have to agree with us, but you do have to comply with our policies and guidelines if you’d like to comment on our platform.

        Regarding the notion of how to refer to someone whose “first act in this country was to enter it illegally,” some 40% of immigrants entered the U.S. legally through a visa obtained for work, study, or tourism and simply remained in the U.S. after their visa expired.

        Further, referring to an individual as “illegal” is legally inaccurate. Federal immigration law generally declares unlawful unauthorized presence in the U.S. a CIVIL violation (and therefore not “illegal.”) Entering the country illegally is classified as a federal misdemeanor.

        Our guidance is to focus on behaviors, not labels. While people may commit illegal acts, PEOPLE are not illegal.

  9. Since all these folks now have a “living wage” we can cut all the welfare programs they have. They don’t need any more gov’t assistance since they now have a living wage

    1. Great point!

      But when was the minimum wage ever truly intended to be a “living wage”?

  10. If raising the minimum wage is “good public policy” for restarting CT’s decade long stagnant economy then why stop at just $15 an hour. We could easily index it to the State’s CPI. And then legislate additional taxes so those benefiting higher minimum wages could help subsidize those who either lost jobs because of minimum wage laws or were never hired in the first place.

    We could also argue that by virtue of CT’s Gold Coast our designation as the nation’s wealthiest State ought suggest we have the highest minimum wages in the nation. With a decade long stagnant economy such new legislation ought help expand our understanding of how raising the minimum wage effects a State’s economy. Economists already know the answer here. But it might be helpful to the rest of the State to see how it all plays out. Ouch.

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