Three days after pledging to attempt an override of Gov. Ned Lamont’s veto of legislation crucial to an ongoing legal battle between restaurants and their workers, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz reversed himself Monday.
The speaker, who said Friday the House would vote to override the veto regardless of apprehension in the Senate — and regardless of Lamont’s appeals for a compromise — now says all groups will try to strike a deal.
“I think we are reaching a point where we can come up with a solution,” Aresimowicz said as lawmakers gathered at the Capitol for a special session Monday. “The Senate expressed a real willingness to work with us. … We saw a path forward.”
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, whose caucus was ready to support the override, said given Aresimowicz’s decision, she also will participate in negotiations to strike a bipartisan deal that includes the Senate and the governor.
“I can yell and scream as much as I want, but that’s not going to change anything,” she said. “Overriding a veto in one chamber is a moot point.”
Any veto override would require the support of two-thirds of the House and Senate. That means 101 out of 151 votes in the former and 24 out of 36 in the latter.
Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said on several occasions last week that Senate Democrats — who hold 22 out of 36 seats in the chamber — hadn’t decided what to do yet.
Looney said Monday that Senate Democrats never met in private caucus to discuss the bill but “I certainly endorse the (compromise) path that we’re now looking to take.”
At issue is a bill that would force the Department of Labor to revisit its regulations regarding minimum wage credits for wait staff.
Current law allows employers to pay less than the state’s minimum wage to employees who also receive tips.
But many of these workers have blended duties. For example, a server may wait on tables, which generates tips, and refill ketchup bottles and salt shakers, which does not.
The law says restaurants must segregate hours and pay rates, offering full wages for non-tip work and a reduced rate when gratuities are involved.
But the Labor Department, for years, had instructed restaurant owners to follow the “80-20 rule:” As long as a worker spends at least 80 percent of his or her time on tasks that generate tips, they can be paid the reduced wage for all work.
But over the past year about a dozen Connecticut restaurant owners — who collectively employ roughly one thousand workers — have been sued by workers who argue they are violating the law.
Lamont vetoed the bill, noting it had no public hearing and that it unfairly would have made the regulation changes retroactive to any pending labor complaints or other civil actions.
Lamont urged all parties Friday to work with his administration to find common ground. “I remain willing to find a compromise that makes common-sense changes on a prospective basis, but I stand by my veto of the bill that was passed,” he said.
Lamont spokesman Rob Blanchard added Monday that “we remain open to compromise.”
Aresimowicz struck a different tone Friday when he pledged to call a House vote on the veto — even if amounted to little more than a symbolic statement of protest.
“I am willing to risk whatever political capital I have to do the right thing,” Aresimowicz told reporters gathered in his Capitol office last week. “These restaurant owners did nothing wrong.”
The affected workers are not unionized, but the Connecticut AFL-CIO, the Connecticut State Building Trades Council and other labor groups have urged lawmakers to sustain Lamont’s veto.
“In effect, this bill retroactively takes away a class of workers who are suing to get fair pay,” the Connecticut State Council of Service Employees International Union wrote in a statement.
In principle, there’s a solution to the current court case problem which doesn’t involve applying a law retroactively.
The restaurant owners relied on the state’s interpretation of state (and federal) law.
If the state misled them (as admitted by the Speaker and minority leader) and if a court forces the employers to pay as a result, the restaurant owners can sue the state to recoup their losses.
Of course, this may prove impossible. The state has protections against being sued. And even if such a suit were possible, a court could hold that the restaurant owners are responsible for the amounts they should have paid, with the state responsible only for any additional costs.
But at least the state would be held responsible for the effect of its (admitted) error. If that’s possible.
Leave a comment