By Christopher Keating
With the stroke of a pen, Gov. Ned Lamont signed a bill Tuesday to raise Connecticut's minimum wage to $15 an hour, directly impacting the lives of more than 300,000 workers across the state.
Some of those workers gathered in Hartford and cheered as they watched Lamont sign the bill -- at times chanting with other advocates and elected leaders who had pushed for the measure for the past six years. The first increase will be to $11 in October, up from the current minimum of $10.10 an hour, and the minimum wage will eventually reach $15 an hour in 2023.
"We tried and failed a couple of times, and this year we got it done," Lamont told the enthusiastic crowd gathered in a function room at a nursing home. "As Joe Biden might have said, this is a big deal."
Business groups said the higher minimum wage will force employers to cut jobs, reduce employees' hours and speed up automation.
"Businesses will be having fewer hours for the workers," said Eric Gjede, the chief lobbyist for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. "It's processes being automated. It's happening slowly, but it's happening before our eyes."
But the focus Tuesday was on the workers who will be affected.
A family of fast food workers
Kyra Franklin, 20, has been working at Wendy's in East Hartford for the past two years, and the path toward $15 an hour gives her hope as she tries to get a better job and more economic security. Her two brothers also have fast food jobs.
"Ten-ten wasn't a lot," Franklin said of her starting wage that has since been boosted to $11 per hour. "I was still struggling to pay bills. Fifteen isn't a lot, but it helps families -- not just my family, but other families around the country. You can finally provide for your children and grandchildren. We made it this far, and we're not going to stop."
Franklin, who works 20 hours a week and also attends Manchester Community College, dreams of one day becoming a pre-kindergarten teacher. She says the impact of a $15 an hour minimum wage will be felt across the state.
"Poverty is going to be reduced," she said. "I'm grateful to be here. I'm speechless. Being here right now is a dream come true."
Joseph and Daurian Franklin have worked at the McDonald's restaurant on Tolland Turnpike in Manchester for the past one and a half years.
Their father, who lives in East Hartford, has two jobs and is in the process of getting a third one. Their mother wants to go back to college.
Daurian Franklin, 21, said the increase is "a big change" as the family is looking to better days ahead.
"Today is a big day for me," said Joseph Franklin, 22. "I get goose bumps that we really got $15. We do so much for so little pay. It's a nonstop grind. That's why I'm glad we passed this bill."
'The workers ... make the workplace'
Richard Grimes, 23, of Hartford has worked at Burger King for the past two years after previously working at Dunkin' Donuts for $10.10 an hour.
Despite trends in the fast food industry and at supermarkets that have far more self-checkouts than in the past, Grimes said he was not concerned about automation.
"Not really," Grimes said. "It's really the workers that really make the workplace. Without us, there really is nothing -- even if you put computers, automated systems, it doesn't really matter."
But he added, "McDonald's has a little kiosk where you actually place your order now, you grab a ticket, they call your name out, and that's it. You do all that without the hassle of talking to any workers or anybody."
'I won't have to struggle as much'
Like others, 20-year-old Takara Gilbert cited her family situation to say that increasing the minimum wage will help her. She currently earns $10.10 an hour while working 30 hours a week at the McDonald's on Albany Avenue in Hartford and is trying to help her father, who had a stroke and is on disability.
"I won't have to struggle as much, and I can pay my bills on time and help my dad out," Gilbert said. "I will be able to provide for my family without struggling. We'll be able to get more of the essentials."
Angel Candelario is currently unemployed at age 38 after working at Burger King, Subway and Dunkin' Donuts in the past. He attended the bill signing ceremony because of his family history of struggles.
"On a personal level, it's a big impact," Candelario said. "My mom raised four children, struggling day to day. A mother would not buy clothes for herself until her kids are fed. She is my example. I thank her."
Candelario is currently preparing to take the written test for his driver's license so that he will be able to increase his mobility and job chances. Right now, he relies on his family and friends, along with the bus, for transportation.
'I want to be a Navy SEAL'
Another worker, 22-year-old Chase Williams of Hartford, also talked about his family's struggles after watching the bill signing.
"It means a lot to me -- my mom working two, three, four jobs," Williams said. "My dad working two jobs. In the future, if I have kids, I'll be able to provide."
Williams currently works 25 hours a week at McDonald's, along with studying part time at Manchester Community College. He has been earning $10.10 an hour for the past two years, but he has much bigger aspirations.
"I want to be a Navy SEAL," Williams said.
(c)2019 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)