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Sen­ate ad­vances $15 min­i­mum wage bill

February 19, 2018

BartonChronicle.com

The Ver­mont Sen­ate on Thurs­day ad­vanced a mea­sure that would raise the state’s hourly min­i­mum wage to $15 by 2024.

The bill, S.40, would in­cre­men­tally hike the state’s min­i­mum wage over the next six years, from the cur­rent level of $10.50 per hour.
Sen. Michael Sirotkin, D-Chit­ten­den, who in­tro­duced the bill, told his col­leagues that ad­dress­ing eco­nomic in­equal­ity in Ver­mont has been a pri­or­ity for him since he joined the Sen­ate in 2014.

“So here I am now in the same spot I was four years ago, and ac­tu­ally do­ing some­thing about it,” he said.

In pre­sent­ing the pro­posal, Sirotkin raised con­cerns about in­come dis­par­ity be­tween high and low earn­ers, and about stag­na­tion of wages in Ver­mont. Ver­mon­ters are more likely to work full-time min­i­mum wage jobs than work­ing peo­ple in other New Eng­land states, he said.

Sev­eral Re­pub­li­cans of­fered amend­ments and spoke against the mea­sure. Some raised con­cerns that busi­ness-own­ers would not be able to af­ford the in­crease; oth­ers said they would like to see Ver­mon­ters earn­ing higher wages, but they should do so by de­vel­op­ing their skill set.

“If peo­ple get the skills and we pro­vide op­por­tu­nity to train in a va­ri­ety of fields, then we will be able to get them to a liv­ing way, not just the in­crease in the min­i­mum wage,” Sen. David Soucy, R-Rut­land, who was op­posed to the mea­sure, said dur­ing the floor de­bate.

The bill, which came out of a study com­mit­tee that met through last sum­mer, won pre­lim­i­nary ap­proval on a 20-10 vote. If the bill passes in a sec­ond vote, which is ex­pected Fri­day, it will move to the House.
Re­becca Kel­ley, spokesper­son for Gov. Phil Scott, said he will con­sider the fi­nal bill “but as it stands, there are a num­ber of con­cerns to be ad­dressed.”

“While Gov­er­nor Scott agrees with the goal to in­crease wages, and has sup­ported eco­nom­i­cally re­spon­si­ble in­creases to the min­i­mum wage in the past, the ap­proach cur­rently pro­posed comes with a lot of risk to our econ­omy, busi­nesses and in­creased costs to con­sumers,” Kel­ley said.

Over the course of a de­bate that lasted about two hours, law­mak­ers con­sid­ered three amend­ments.

One, of­fered by Sen. Joe Ben­ning, R-Cale­do­nia, would limit the in­crease in min­i­mum wage to Chit­ten­den County, the most densely pop­u­lated area in the state.

“I do not wish to cast cold wa­ter on the ef­fort to have Ver­mont take the lead in try­ing to pro­tect our most vul­ner­a­ble,” Ben­ning said. “What I am deeply con­cerned about, how­ever is the lack of op­por­tu­ni­ties for busi­nesses in my neck of the woods and in many places along the Con­necti­cut River.”

Ben­ning char­ac­ter­ized Ver­mont as “a di­vided state.” Ben­ning said there is a “night and day” dif­fer­ence be­tween the econ­omy in the area around Burling­ton and the North­east King­dom.

Sen. Phil Baruth, D-Chitt., re­sponded to Ben­ning’s com­ment.
“I sim­ply dis­agree,” he said. “We are a united state aware that we have dif­fer­ent eco­nomic lev­els in dif­fer­ent parts.”

Baruth said pass­ing the amend­ment would send the mes­sage that the Leg­is­la­ture is ad­dress­ing wage stag­na­tion in Chit­ten­den County, while en­sur­ing that those out­side of the area “con­tinue to en­dure” flat wages.

The Sen­ate de­feated Ben­ning’s pro­posal on a roll call vote with 6 in fa­vor, 24 op­posed.

An­other amend­ment, of­fered by Sen. Peg Flory, R-Rut­land, would al­low busi­nesses to pay less than the min­i­mum wage if they of­fer em­ploy­ees ben­e­fits pack­ages that reach a cer­tain thresh­old.

Sen. John Rodgers, D-Es­sex/​Or­leans, voiced sup­port for the idea. He said he heard from a ma­jor em­ployer in his dis­trict who was con­cerned that rais­ing the min­i­mum wage to $15 per hour would have a neg­a­tive im­pact on their abil­ity to af­ford the ben­e­fits pack­age they of­fer.
Rodgers said he be­lieves the bill “treats these re­spon­si­ble busi­nesses un­fairly.”

But oth­ers had ques­tions about the de­tails of Flo­ry’s pro­posal, and con­cerns about the ef­fect of al­low­ing strat­i­fi­ca­tion of the min­i­mum wage, as she sug­gested.

“The beauty of the min­i­mum wage is that it is the min­i­mum wage,” Baruth said.

Flo­ry’s amend­ment failed, with only 11 in fa­vor and 19 op­posed.
Law­mak­ers did adopt an amend­ment, backed by the seven mem­bers of the Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee, that would coun­ter­act a fed­eral rule change the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has pro­posed that would give restau­rant own­ers more con­trol over the tips their work­ers earn.

More amend­ments are ex­pected when the bill comes up for fi­nal read­ing Fri­day.

Sen. Ritchie West­man, R-Or­leans, voted against the bill, say­ing he was con­cerned about its ef­fect on child­care. In­creas­ing the min­i­mum wage could have an im­pact on Ver­mon­ters’ ac­cess to a ben­e­fit that helps fam­i­lies man­age child­care costs.

The bill in­cludes a pro­vi­sion that would in­crease the el­i­gi­bil­ity thresh­old for the pro­gram and in­crease the pay­ments to ac­count for the ad­di­tional ex­pense of child­care re­sult­ing from the ris­ing min­i­mum wage. How­ever, West­man said, the fix is­n’t enough.

“We’re not solv­ing the is­sue here,” he said. “We’re high­light­ing where the is­sue should be solved.”

The bill still must be vet­ted by the House. Rep. He­len Head, D- South Burling­ton, who chairs the House Gen­eral, Hous­ing and Mil­i­tary Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, said she does not ex­pect the panel would be able to be­gin work on the bill un­til March at the ear­li­est.

“I think there’s a great deal of in­ter­est in the bill,” she said.

The mea­sure has dozens of sup­port­ers in the House, she said. How­ever, it also has op­po­si­tion from the Re­pub­li­can cau­cus.

Isaac Grimm of Rights and Democ­racy Ver­mont said the group sup­ports rais­ing the min­i­mum wage as soon as pos­si­ble.

“While this does­n’t get us there as fast as we would like, we think it’s still a re­ally, re­ally im­por­tant bill and a re­ally im­por­tant step for­ward for work­ers in the state,” Grimm said.

He said the $15 min­i­mum wage would “put at us the fore­front of the coun­try” for liv­able wages.

Many have con­cerns about the im­pli­ca­tions of the pro­posal.

Erin Sigrist, pres­i­dent of the Ver­mont Re­tail­ers and Gro­cers As­so­ci­a­tion, said the pro­posal would put small busi­nesses in fi­nan­cially chal­leng­ing po­si­tions.

“We need to pro­vide the train­ing nec­es­sary to de­velop the work­force and al­low work­ers to move up,” Sigrist said.

Many busi­nesses are al­ready pay­ing above min­i­mum wage to at­tract qual­i­fied work­ers, she said. She also said the dis­cus­sion should in­clude con­sid­er­a­tion of the to­tal com­pen­sa­tion pack­age, rather than just the wage level, be­cause many em­ploy­ers of­fer gen­er­ous ben­e­fits.

“Em­ploy­ees are go­ing to take a hit when it comes to their ben­e­fits, and I think that that is a huge con­cern,” she said.



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Halloween Spending to Reach $8.4 Billion, Highest in Survey History
September 21, 2016
Farrell Distributing along with Leunig’s Bistro & 12 local restaurants to raise money for the UVMMC Breast Care Center
September 19, 2016
Dick Barnes Recognized for Long-term Service to Vermont
August 29, 2016
Survey Finds Seven in 10 Small Retailers ‘Overwhelmed’ By Government Regulations, Mandates
August 23, 2016
Cabot partnership to help Food, Farms & Forests Fund
August 11, 2016
Vermont will not enforce GE Food Labeling Law
August 2, 2016
Woodstock Farmers’ Market Gold Barn Honoree
July 26, 2016
National Retail Federation Upgrades 2016 Economic Forecast
July 21, 2016
Back-to-School and College Spending to Reach $75.8 Billion
July 1, 2016
NRF Welcomes Appeals Court Ruling Against Disputed Credit Card Swipe Fee Settlement
June 30, 2016
Vermont’s earned sick leave law
June 16, 2016
2016 Scholarship Recipients Named
June 15, 2016
City Market considers next phase of expansion
May 26, 2016
Congressman Welch Honored as NRF Legislator of the Year
May 25, 2016
NRF Recognizes Legislators of the Year
May 16, 2016
#ShopNaked at the Woodstock Farmers Market
May 13, 2016
Walmart suing Visa over chip card
May 11, 2016
From Seeds To Sweets, Small Businesses Are A Winning Formula In Lamoille County
May 11, 2016
City Market Job Opening - Director of Operations
May 5, 2016
Sherman and Trombley of Stowe Mercantile are VRGA Persons of the Year
April 27, 2016
Americans to Spoil Mom this Mother's Day
April 11, 2016
The House passes a resolution honoring Bethany Berger
April 4, 2016
A Hannaford Supermarkets program surpasses 2 significant milestones
March 30, 2016
A Vanilla shortage?
March 18, 2016
Vermont Pickle on Local 22 & Local 44
March 10, 2016
Best Bagger 2016
March 7, 2016
Onion River Co-op partners with Mansfield Cooperative to save Underhill Country Store
March 7, 2016
14 Vermont businesses receive $14,000 to attend national trade shows
March 1, 2016
Bethany Berger takes home 2nd place!
February 26, 2016
Only ONE booth left!
December 4, 2015
It's Scholarship Time!
October 6, 2015
Gubernatorial Candidates to Judge Vermont Bagging Championship
July 22, 2015
Three Vermont Businesses named America’s Retail Champions
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Vermont Retail & Grocers Association
963 Paine Turnpike North
Berlin, VT 05602

Telephone: 802-839-1928
Fax: 802-839-1927
Email: info@vtrga.org