March 14, 2019

Biz lobby, paid-leave advocates spar over 'competitiveness'

Photo | Contributed
Photo | Contributed
Workers on the shop floor at Waterbury's Noujaim Tool Co.
PHOTO | Contributed
Eric Gjede, CBIA's vice president of government affairs.

Citing a recent survey, the state's largest business lobby says most of its members are concerned about legislation that would mandate paid family and medical leave.

The survey, released Thursday by the Connecticut Business & Industry Association (CBIA), found that 63 percent of business leaders expect their operations to be impacted if paid family and medical leave is adopted by the General Assembly.

CBIA's findings surface weeks after the legislature's Labor and Public Employees Committee approved two similar bills mandating that private employers annually offer up to 12 weeks of paid leave, paying as much as $1,000 per week, for workers dealing with an illness or to care for a sick family member. According to the proposals, the program would be funded by a 0.5 percent payroll tax on employees.

One of the measures has been sent to the House for consideration and another is headed to the Senate.

On Wednesday, advocates for paid family and medical leave urged lawmakers to expand the definition of "family member."

Gov. Ned Lamont has also backed legislation that would provide paid time off up to 12 weeks, but the governor's proposal does not call for full wage replacement.

Opponents of the proposed paid leave system, including CBIA, argue the pool of money raised by the payroll tax would not be sustainable and that the measures would hurt the workflow for small businesses dealing with lengthy absences.

According to CBIA's survey, which mostly polled businesses with fewer than 100 employees, paid leave would impose "significant financial and operational hardship," hitting small businesses the hardest.

Eric Gjede, CBIA's vice president of government affairs, who has lobbied against paid leave proposals in prior years, said the program would make the state less competitive in attracting and retaining workers.

"Connecticut lawmakers must provide businesses the clarity and predictability that being here is the right strategic choice," Gjede said.

But advocates for the paid-leave system argue it would have the opposite effect.

In a statement later Thursday, the Campaign for Paid Family & Medical Leave said CBIA's "non-scientific" survey runs contrary to its findings, which show 77 percent of small business owners favor a paid-leave program, including 79 percent support among owners that are members of the lobby.

The campaign, a coalition of 70-plus organizations from across Connecticut, including the Connecticut Women's Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF) and CT Working Families, says the lobby's survey is "not randomly sampled, uses partisan language and does not differentiate between a positive impact and a negative one."

CBIA's survey also had a lackluster 6.3 percent response rate, the campaign said.

Maddie Granato, policy manager for CWEALF, and director for the Campaign for Paid Family & Medical Leave, said the state must adopt the program to keep pace with nearby states that have already rolled out similar benefits, including in New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Jersey.

In fact, New Jersey's paid-leave program has had such a minimal impact on businesses that the Garden State recently expanded its paid-leave mandates for workers, she said.

"Why wouldn't a recent graduate [when choosing where to live] factor in that we have paid family and medical leave here?" Granato rebutted. "With this program, workers would be funding their own leave."

But opponents argue that the Connecticut paid-leave proposals would be far more generous than other states, including California, New Jersey and Rhode Island, that do not provide full wage replacement.

Biz split on minimum wage

Respondents to the CBIA survey were split on whether the state should raise its hourly minimum wage from $10.10 to $15 in the coming years: 42 percent expect a "significant" or "moderate" impact, should the wage increase, and 41 percent project "no impact," according to the survey.

Asked how they would offset a wage hike, employers say they would increase the use of automation to replace workers and cut workforce levels, hours or benefits.

Connecticut last increased its minimum wage over a three-year period ending Jan. 2017, when it jumped from $8.70 to $10.10.

Also from the survey, 46 percent believe business conditions in the state remain stable, which is the same percentage CBIA recorded in fourth quarter of 2017. Meantime, 15 percent expect conditions to worsen and 40 percent expect conditions to improve "somewhat or significantly."

The survey was distributed between January to February and its margin of error is +/- 7.5 percentage points.

This story has been updated to include comment from the Campaign for Paid Family & Medical Leave

Read more

Before biz crowd, Lamont defends min. wage, paid family medical leave

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