April 15, 2014
Can you live on $8.73 an hour? Especially if you are not allowed to work 40 hours at that rate, with no job-related benefits? That is the current minimum wage, and on April 9, the House passed H.552, which proposes to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 in January 2015. $10.10 is the current level proposed by legislation at the federal level, but it, and a proposal by Governor Shumlin, is to phase this in over three years.
The stark reality is that you cannot live easily on $8.73 an hour, especially if you have children. You will need SNAP benefits (federal food stamps, which are constantly threatened by budget cuts), child care subsidies, heating assistance and the earned income tax credit. The federal and state governments do provide relief through these types of programs, but no one who receives them will tell you that they add up to a livable wage.
My committee, the General, Housing and Military Affairs committee, passed this bill out of committee on a 6-2 vote, and we to implement the rise in the minimum wage in one year for a number of reasons. First, our current minimum wage has an inflation rise built into it, and so it rises every year at a rate between 5% and, on the lower side, the rate of inflation. Since it went into effect, inflation has been less than 5% every year. Nevertheless, if we did nothing with the minimum wage, it would be about $9.35 in 2017, meaning that the minimum wage increase would be a net of 75 cents over three years for Vermonters. (It would be larger in parts of the country where they adhere to the federal minimum, $7.25.) Conversely, a wage of $10.10 raised in 2015 but in effect in 2017, when adjusted for inflation, has a buying power of about $9.60 in 2015 dollars, meaning that the net effect is a 25 cent raise over three years. We chose to propose raising the minimum wage in 2015 because it would represent real dollars in real time. Read more
March 24, 2014
Here is a link to this article on Vermont Digger. Co-written with Jen Kimmich, co-founder of The Alchemist, this column is meant to lay out, in broad detail, the disconnect between the evidence found in researching Earned Sick Day bills across the country and found in surveys done in the state and municipalities that have enacted similar legislation, and the fears promulgated by opponents of the bill.
As a business owner and a state legislator, we are both supporters of the earned sick days bill, H.208. We know that many business owners have spoken out in favor of such a protection because they see it as the smart — as well as the right — thing to do. We know it lowers turnover costs and boosts productivity. We know that having sick employees is bad for our business and for public health. We understand that this bill will enable thousands of parents to take care of their sick family members in times of need.
Although a majority of working Vermonters support the earned sick days bill, H.208 has been met with strong opposition. Small business owners, many of whom struggle to make ends meet, are understandably concerned about anything that sounds like it could increase payroll expenses. Strong lobbying efforts have been put forth to stop this bill in its tracks and unfortunately, during this process, misguided fears and concerns have arisen and halted this bill which would help ensure the wellness and financial stability of more than 60,000 working Vermonters – roughly 20 percent of the workforce.
A growing body of evidence should put to rest lobbyists’ predictions of doom. Kevin Westlye, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, opposed the first paid sick days bill in San Francisco, but later told a business reporter that it’s “the best public policy for the least cost. Do you want your server coughing over your food?” The current director of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce testified in committee hearings this year that concerns raised by Vermont’s business organizations were voiced in his city, too, but that seven years after implementation, earned sick days have had no adverse effect on his members.
There is clear evidence that earned sick days legislation is good policy for working families, the economy, our business climate and public health.
In addition, just released research from Connecticut, the only state thus far to enact an earned sick day law, found that “the concerns articulated by many business associations that the law would impose heavy burdens on employers and invite worker abuse turn out to have been misplaced.” Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed said the law had led to no change or an increase of less than 2 percent in their overall costs.
There is clear evidence that earned sick days legislation is good policy for working families, the economy, our business climate and public health. Moreover, there is broad support for the earned sick days law in Vermont among small business owners. However, opponents continue to manipulate the facts in a way that does a disservice to the vast majority of businesses who already offer this benefit, and a larger disservice to those most in need of this legislation — our lowest wage earners.
We have heard that a rise in the minimum wage will accomplish quite a bit for the same people who would benefit from the ability to earn sick time. This is true. But those without paid time off will continue to suffer the same stress and poverty they do now without the flexibility to take any time off to manage essential health care. H.208 will provide instant relief to tens of thousands of working Vermonters. The bills are both necessary and inextricably linked.
We can’t and won’t let misinformation and misguided fear dictate what we do in Vermont. We’ll continue to fight for earned sick days because it’s the right thing to do for workers and families and also because it’s the right thing to do for our economy.