How 'bout a raise?

MANCHESTER - The minimum wage in Vermont could be on its way up to $10.10 per hour, from its current level of $8.73.

An act relating to raising the Vermont minimum wage (H.552) has already been passed by a voice vote in the House of Representatives and is currently making its way through the state Senate. Currently, Vermont has the highest minimum wage in New England.

How would this change effect Manchester business owners?

Lynne Robillard, owner of The Hidden Jewel said that there is no way she could hire any additional help. As of right now, she does not have any employees.

"Between health care and this [the minimum wage going up], there's no way I could hire someone," she said.

On the other hand, Betsy Grant, owner of Long Age and Far Away, said good retail sales help is already making around $10 an hour. Grant has one regular part time employee and another employee that helps fill in.

"If they're really good retail help, they make a lot more," she said.

While Manchester is populated with many smaller shops and stores, there are also larger establishments with more than just one or two employees. Chris Morrow, owner of the North shire Bookstore said that this potential change would certainly have an effect, but it wouldn't be a "deal breaker."

"I want to pay my staff as much as possible....this is an issue that needs to be addressed as a society," he said. "I'm for this change, but it doesn't mitigate the facts that it will affect business. In the long run, I'm in favor."

Morrow said that while a change in minimum wage would be doable, health care is the bigger concern. He said the payroll tax numbers that have been discussed are "completely unprecedented and unworkable."

Joe Miles, CEO of r.k. Miles said that, like Morrow, the change in the minimum wage will not likely effect any of his full time employees, but may have a slight effect on part time or seasonal work. However, what he is most concerned about is the potential costs of health care.

"Right now the legislature is working towards single payer health care, so there's a question mark in the air," he said. "There's a bunch of things up in the air that individually may not make much of an impact, but all together will have a larger effect."

Governor Peter Shumlin announced in a press release March 10 that he supports a $10.10 minimum wage. Over a three year period, his plan would raise the minimum wage 45 cents a year, starting in January 2015. Annie Noonan, Commissioner of Labor, said the governor supports this plan because it makes the increase more gradual.

"There's really two reasons. One, this assists Vermont workers, helps them keep up with inflation," she said. "And two, this also give business owners ample time to increase. This [raise in the minimum wage] won't hit them all at once."

However, the version that passed through the House would have the minimum wage go up January 1, 2015 - no three year gradual increase.

Bennington County Dick Sears said he supports a change in the minimum wage to $10.10, but he would support a more gradual shift, as opposed to the version passed in the House. The bill has just been introduced in the Senate and he said he expects to see a version that finds the middle ground between Shumlin's proposal and what came out of the House.

"It would still be an increase, when it comes out, but a more phased in approach," he said. "Businesses don't like surprises, businesses like to make plans [for changes like this increase]."


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