MIDDLESEX — Touting tripartisan effort and support from the business community, Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law Monday a bill that will raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.50 by 2018.
Shumlin signed the legislation at the Red Hen Bakery, whose owners have strongly supported boosting the minimum wage from its current $8.73 an hour. The plan will boost the rate over a four-year period to help the business community adjust.
In 2016 the wage will be $9.60, followed by $10 in 2017 and $10.50 in 2018. The increases will help lift up low-income Vermont families, Shumlin said.
“We are at a time in America’s economy where the gap between those who have and those who don’t, hardworking families, has never been wider. And, we all know that working families should be paid a fair wage,” he said.
Those earning the minimum wage, especially the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour, are struggling, Shumlin said.
“You don’t bring enough money home at the end of the week to feed your family. You live in poverty, and I don’t think there’s an American who believes in the greatest economy in the world, in the greatest democracy in the world, that it’s fair to work for $7.25 an hour — work hard — and come home at the end of the week and have to live in poverty,” he said.
The Legislature took up the minimum wage as a priority after Shumlin joined other Democratic New England governors and President Barack Obama at an event in Connecticut in March. Obama is pushing to raise the federal minimum to $10.10.
But Congress has not acted.
“Instead, we’ve had governors across America trying to do the right thing,” Shumlin said.
Connecticut has already passed legislation to boost its minimum wage to $10.10 by 2017. And Shumlin said governors in Massachusetts and New York are committed to doing the same thing.
Women, who make up 60 percent of the minimum wage earners in Vermont, will benefit from the law, Shumlin said.
“We know that there is a wage gap between women and men. These legislators and others have been working with me to close the gap. This is a step in the right direction, not only for hardworking Vermont families to have a fair wage at the end of the week, but also for Vermont’s women who get paid less per hour than men for similar work,” he said.
Randy George, co-owner of the Red Hen Bakery, said he supports boosting the minimum wage because workers cannot provide for themselves on the current pay.
“I always thought that … frankly, what Vermont’s has been is far too low. Anyone who has to buy groceries and keep a roof over their heads for themselves or a family knows that these are foolish numbers,” he said.
George said his business, which employes about 40 full-time workers, benefits from paying higher wages because it attracts skilled workers who want to stay.
“If I’m going to attract skilled people and keep them, we have to exceed that. So, we don’t even look at the minimum wage. Our goal is to get to a livable wage for most and eventually all of our full-time employees,” he said.
Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, the chairman of the Senate Economic Development Committee, credited Shumlin for urging lawmakers to raise the wage. It was Mullin’s proposal that lawmakers eventually adopted. Shumlin’s proposal would have topped out at $10.10 in 2017.
“There was not a minimum wage bill moving until the governor made sure that something happened at the crossover deadline (for legislation to advance). So, if it wasn’t for Gov. Shumlin we wouldn’t be standing here today,” he said.
Rep. Helen Head, D-South Burlington, the chairwoman of the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs, praised the near unanimity within the Legislature for raising the minimum wage, even if specific proposals differed.
“We’re very grateful to be here today and appreciate all the support for Vermonters,” Head said.
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