A number of labor advocates were at the statehouse in Montpelier Tuesday to call on legislators to pass bills that would raise the state’s minimum wage to a livable wage and guarantee paid sick days for all employees.
The guaranteed paid sick days bill aims to “ensure that all employees shall accrue a minimum number of paid hours annually so they can take paid time from work to take care of their own health and safety needs and those of their families.”
A second bill being considered by legislators, H. 552, proposes raising the Vermont minimum wage to $12.50 per hour beginning January 1, 2015. On each subsequent January 1st, the minimum wage rate would increase five percent or the percentage increase of the Consumer Price Index, whichever is smaller.
Both bills are under review by the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs. On Tuesday, a group of labor advocates was at the statehouse calling for passage of the bills. Mary Crowley is 22 and works in a regional chain restaurant in Vermont. She says the two bills are intertwined. “Both paid sick days and securing a strong livable wage for Vermonters speak o upholding the human dignity of workers. In the service industry, in restaurants, schedules are very unpredictable. Especially with the tipped minimum wage incomes can be very unpredictable. Having the paid sick days and a livable wage would really help a lot of my co-workers. A lot of them are single mothers that are really struggling to get time off to take care of sick children. This legislation is insurance against the unplanned.”
While Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility is not formally associated with the group that gathered at the statehouse on Tuesday, Executive Director Andrea Cohen explains that they have a longstanding policy of supporting livable jobs and wages. “When we took a look at the proposal to increase the minimum wage we came out 100 percent in support of that. We feel that if people are getting good wages they can be more secure in their job and in their community and there’s a little bit of a trickle down that they can be active economically. So we have come out in support of the increase in the minimum wage.”
Cohen adds that last October, the association passed an earned paid leave policy. “People need paid time off so they can attend to their lives, whether it’s a parent-teacher conference or a mental health day. There’s times when you need some paid leave so you can attend to life’s matters. So VBSR has an earned paid leave policy that we’ve adopted and we’re pushing at the Statehouse.”
Vermont Grocers’ Association President Jim Harrison says many of his members work hard to provide benefits like sick leave and higher wages, but having the legislature mandate required benefits could lead to unintended consequences. “Does that mean that the employer if they’re providing these benefits to part-time high school students, for example, does that mean that it has to come at the expense of other benefits that are offered to full-time employees? Can they still offer health care? Can they still offer paid vacation time? So there’s a lot of what-if’s when you pass a well intentioned mandate on employers. I think because of that the Legislature is really thinking long and hard about this and may not be able to connect all the dots to make this a viable proposal.”
Published reports indicate that while House Speaker Shap Smith supports the guaranteed paid sick days bill, he is unlikely to bring it to a floor vote.
The House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs will hold a public hearing on the minimum wage proposal in the House Chamber Thursday evening at 6.