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Obama Meeting With New England Governors On Min. Wage Hike


President Obama is in Connecticut today meeting with New England governors to discuss raising federal and state minimum wages.

Increasing the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour was a divisive issue during the recent National Governors Association annual meeting in Washington, D.C.  Most notably it pitted Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, against Louisiana Republican Governor Bobby Jindal. Connecticut’s minimum wage of $8.70 is set to increase to $9 in 2015, and during hisstate of the state address in February, Malloy proposed raising it even higher: $10.10 an hour by 2017.

“If you don’t agree, you should ask yourself would you work for $10.10 or $404 a week for a 40 hour week?” Malloy said. “This is a target that our President has set, and we should lead the way there.”

Tuesday, Connecticut’s General Assembly’s Labor Committee approved legislation that would raise the state’s minimum wage while New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio signed a local ordinance increasing the minimum wage for city employees and contractors to $10.10 an hour. President Obama recently used his executive powers to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 for newly hired federal defense workers, starting in 2015. Massachusetts Democratic U.S. Congressman Richard Neal backs the president’s action.

“Those who are in the defense industry, there aren’t very many people who are getting minimum wage,” Neal said. “I can assure you of that. So I think that the President was attempting to use a symbol or an example of what he could do with Presidential signings, but not to miss the point that raising the minimum wage is something that we ought to do.”

Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, an independent, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick are joining fellow Democrats Malloy and President Obama for the event at Central Connecticut State University. Massachusetts’ minimum wage is currently $8 an hour, while a bill passed by the state Senate would increase it to $11 per hour by 2016. The bill will be taken up by the House this spring. Advocates in the commonwealth are also pushing a ballot question to hike the level to $10.50. Not seeking a third term, Governor Patrick proposed an increase during his final state of the commonwealth in January.

“Raising the minimum wage would bring a little relief to the working poor, many of whom do jobs we could not live without and who, by the way, will recycle that money right back into the economy,” Patrick said. “To those who are reluctant to raise the minimum wage, I ask only that, before you resolve to oppose it, consider whether you can live on it.”

Vermont was one of 13 states that increased its minimum wage on the first of the year, seeing a jump of 13 cents to $8.73 an hour. Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders has called the federal level of $7.25 a starvation wage. The Independent has sponsored a bill that would increase the national hourly wage to $10.10.

“The Walton family that owns WalMart pays their workers such low wages, and has such poor benefits, that many of their workers have to go on Medicaid, have to go on food stamps, have to live in government subsidized housing,” Sanders said. “So you have an enormously wealthy family, the wealthiest family in America, paying their workers inadequate wages and being subsidized by the taxpayers of this country.  That to me is absurd.”

New York’s minimum wage jumped from the federal level to $8 an hour at the end of 2013 and will rise to $9 over the next two years. Republicans in Congress and their business allies have argued mandating a hike would result in increased unemployment and potential job loss as companies would have to cut paychecks or jobs to make up for the additional costs.

After the rare event with the New England governors, President Obama will leave Connecticut for Democratic National Committee fundraising events in Boston.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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