Connecticut Senate Democrat leaders held a press conference announcing their priorities this session related to education and the state’s workforce.
The proposals include greater transparency and oversight of school spending, increasing teacher diversity, reducing higher education costs, expanding sick day coverage for workers, restricting scheduling changes for hospitality businesses and increasing the reduced wage for workers who receive tips.
Noting that Connecticut school districts spend $9 billion annually, Sen. Doug McCrory, D-Hartford, said the state needs to have greater oversight of how that money is being spent to ensure students are well-prepared to enter the workforce.
“I think every citizen of the state of Connecticut, every resident, would like to see a great return on their investment,” McCrory said. “Transparency is very important; we want to know where our dollars are being spent. Besides just teacher salaries, there’s a lot more resources our children need to be successful. So, we’re going to do a deeper dive and look how we’re spending that $9 billion across the state of Connecticut.”
McCrory said they also hope to address teacher shortages plaguing the country and the state through recruiting and retaining teachers, including retaining teachers already in the profession, as well as expanding the diversity of teachers in the classroom.
“All the research shows our children learn better when taught by a diverse population,” McCrory said. “We need some more Black teachers, we need some more brown teachers, we need some more yellow teachers. Because in Connecticut 91 percent of the teachers are white. That’s great, that’s a great number, but we also need to retain them.”
McCrory said they plan to “remove some barriers that have been in place since 1986 in the state of Connecticut that limit the number of teachers of color in the state of Connecticut, and we have programs to do it.”
The Connecticut Education Association (CEA), Connecticut’s largest teachers’ union, said they support “resources to offset the costs of training, and provide mentorship and guidance to help each candidate earn their certification,” but indicated they did not support the lowering of standards for certification, in a survey sent to candidates during the 2022 campaign season.
McCrory also said it was imperative that teachers are prepared to usher students into the state workforce, which has 100,000 job openings, through teaching financial literacy, computer literacy and addressing the social and emotional needs of students.
Turning to workforce bills, Senate Democrats indicated they are putting a priority on passing a bill that would require businesses in the hospitality sector, including restaurants, to give their employees longer notice if they will be cut from their shift or otherwise pay the employee a portion of their wages.
Often called the Fair Work Week bill, it has been pushed at the legislature for a number of years, with business and restaurant groups largely opposed, saying it will hurt their ability to appropriately staff their businesses.
Chair of the Labor and Public Employees Committee, Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, said they are putting a renewed effort behind the Fair Work Week bill and believe they will get it across the finish line this year.
“This is the year that we want to get this done,” Kushner said. “We know that so many workers in our state are working two or three jobs and they have to make choices every day about the scheduling about how do you manage different employers and different schedules, so this year is the year that we want to pass predictable scheduling.”
Kushner said the bill would only apply to large employers with 500 or more employees in the retail and hospitality sector and restaurants with at least 30 locations. Notably absent were hospitals, which have previously opposed such legislation, and face similar scheduling issues.
“This is very doable. It’s been done in other states and other cities, so I know we can do it here in Connecticut and we can make it possible for workers to juggle many different jobs and also their family lives,” Kushner said. “This is a critical bill for us to get done.”
Senate Democrats also proposed increasing the base wage for waiters and waitresses in the restaurant industry who receive a lower hourly wage rate because they receive tips, as has been done in other states like Michigan.
Senate President Pro-Tem Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said that while Connecticut’s minimum wage will reach $15 per hour this year, the base wage for employees receiving tips remains at $6.38 per hour increasing the gap between the reduced wage and the state’s minimum wage.
Kushner said that competition for employees in the restaurant and even fast-food industry has led to wages increasing for employees even beyond the minimum wage. “What has happened is that we don’t have a level playing field, because some employers are already doing that, a lot of employers in Connecticut, so this would require all employers to do it and level the playing field.”
Connecticut’s restaurant industry was hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent government shut down and the industry has since been struggling to rebuild its workforce. The Leisure and Hospitality sector in Connecticut remains roughly 8,000 jobs short since the onset of the pandemic in 2020, according to the Connecticut Department of Labor.
Reached for comment, Scott Dolch, president of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, said that Connecticut restaurants need support, “not complicated new laws and regulations that will make it harder for restaurants to stay in business and keep Connecticut residents employed.”
“Although the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided, Connecticut restaurants are now facing new and significant headwinds including inflation, supply chain issues, and continued worker shortages,” Dolch said. “The result is an unstable landscape that continues to put local restaurants out of business, including some landmark, historic restaurants that have been mainstays in Connecticut cities and towns for decades, but who’ve permanently closed their doors in recent weeks and months.”
Today was the second day in a row of Senate Democrats releasing their priorities for the legislative session. On Monday, they released their Safer Connecticut Agenda, addressing domestic violence, online privacy, transportation safety and improved access to mental health and addiction treatment.