Minimum wage increases in Vt. as advocates vow to fight for more

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January 1, 2014, 5:10 pm
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(NECN: Jack Thurston, Burlington, Vt.) - The minimum wage increased $.13 in Vermont on New Year's Day, bringing the state's minimum wage to $8.73 an hour. State law pegs automatic increases to the Consumer Price Index. According to the National Employment Law Project, Vermont was one of 13 states that saw minimum wage increases with the start of 2014.

"It's very difficult," said college student Gina Mangiafico of Burlington, Vt., describing making ends meet earning low wages. "I'm living mostly off canned soup this winter, because my heating bill has been extremely high."

Mangiafico told New England Cable News she now earns about $.75 more than the state minimum wage working as a hostess at a resort, where she receives few, if any, tips. Mangiafico said she has had jobs in the past where she was paid just the lowest amount allowed.

Vermont's minimum wage increase affects about 10,000 minimum wage earners, according to the National Employment Law Project. Other states in the northeast are also seeing increases. NELP said 107,000 minimum wage workers in Connecticut will get a $.45 raise to $8.70 an hour and 23,000 minimum wage workers in Rhode Island will get a $.25 raise to $8.00 an hour. In New York, where the NELP said 676,000 workers earn that state's minimum, employees will now make $8.00 an hour; a $.75 increase.

"These small increases are not addressing the real crisis for working people," said James Haslam of the Vermont Workers' Center.

Haslam said low-paid folks need more money to afford child care, transportation, housing costs, food, and other bills required to lead dignified lives. They also deserve paid sick days, Haslam insisted. The Workers' Center has vowed to push for both in the upcoming legislative session in Montpelier. "Until we dramatically increase our minimum wage, our communities will be suffering," Haslam said.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said Washington needs to act. Sanders, who has described himself as a socialist who admires countries with histories of social-democratic government, said raising the federal minimum wage would give Americans $35-billion more to spend in their take-home pay. That would, in turn, create 85,000 more jobs, Sanders said, citing a 2013 Economic Policy Institute study.

The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. "To my mind, that is a starvation wage," Sanders said in a prepared video statement. "It is an unacceptably low wage; we've got to raise the minimum wage to at least $10.10 an hour."

Proposals on Capitol Hill to raise the federal minimum wage will surely be met with very strong and very vocal opposition, from groups like The U.S. Chamber of Commerce. On its website, the Chamber posted the following statement:

The U.S. Chamber continues to believe that increases in the minimum wage fall disproportionately on small businesses who are the least able to absorb such a dramatic increase in their labor costs. Accordingly, the U.S. Chamber continues to oppose increases in the minimum wage and believes that any increase must be coupled with provisions that recognize the impact this will have on small businesses.

The National Federation of Independent Business also objects to the idea of required wage increases. On the NFIB website, the group posted this position statement:

NFIB opposes any effort to increase the federal minimum wage. Like most government mandates on business, raising the minimum wage will have a deep and disproportionate impact on the small-business sector.

Gina Mangiafico told NECN she couldn't support herself without help from her grandparents, who assist with the costs of her rent. "I'm one of the luckiest ones," she said.

Mangiafico added that she hopes her voice and the voices of workers like her are heard as the debate over raising the minimum wage continues. Some political analysts have said they expect the minimum wage to be a major issue leading up to the 2014 elections.

Tags: vermont, minimum wage, employment, Jack Thurston
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