The retail and food-service industries spent the 2015 session of the CT General Assembly in the cross-hairs of a group of vocal legislators who are considered advocates for the worker class. Echoing the position of a number of very active labor unions and their lobbyists, these legislators made a case in support of a proposal to impose a fee on certain employers who pay their employees $15 per hour or less. The group defended the bill by linking increased state spending on social services and health care spending to low wages, arguing that people working full-time at minimum wage or low-wage may still rely on supplemental public assistance programs.
Senate bill 1044 would have established a quarterly fee imposed on employers with at least 500 employees and it specifically included franchisors whose franchisees collectively employ 500 or more employees. Such employers would have been required to pay a one dollar per-work-hour fee for each employee who had been on the payroll for 90 days prior to the most recently completed calendar quarter and was paid $15 dollars or less. The fees would have been collected by the CT State Labor Commission and would have been deposited into a newly created Human Services Support Account intended to support and improve certain activities by the CT Departments of Social Service and Developmental Services and the Office of Early Childhood.
With strong opposition from the CT Retail Merchants Association (CRMA) and the CT Business and Industry Association (CBIA), SB 1044 was never called for a vote. The proponents of the bill however, were able to revive a component of the bill which established the Connecticut Low Wage Employer Advisory Board within the Department of Labor. This body is empowered to advise the Labor Commissioner on matters related to public assistance use among working residents of the state, ways to improve those public assistance programs and large business’ reliance on state-funded public assistance programs, among other things.
Despite having minor business representation on this newly created advisory board, it is expected that the group will recommend either resubmitting SB 1044 next year or crafting another version of the bill that will target companies that employ large numbers of employees at hourly wages. Since the close of the 2015 legislative session activists have been holding rallies at fast food and large discount retail stores calling for an increase in the minimum wage and criticizing businesses for their failure to provide what they term a "livable wage." Expect to see these same folks working hard to advance their agenda in Connecticut and throughout the country as legislatures reconvene in 2016.