Category Archives: Labor

Frontier, AT&T Union Reach Deal, Ending Feud As Hearings Start

by Categorized: Labor, Telecommunications Date:

Less than two months ago, the situation was dire between Frontier Communications and the Connecticut union representing 2,200 AT&T workers who would join Frontier after a proposed merger.

On May 2, negotiators for the Communications Workers of America, Local 1298, ended meetings with Frontier amid angry accusations as the union believed the company would cut more than 1,000 jobs even though Frontier said it would maintain the workforce. CWA vowed to block Frontier’s attempt to buy AT&T’s wireline business in the state for $2 billion.

But Wednesday, the two sides reached a peaceful deal — one day before state regulators begin hearings on the AT&T-Frontier sale.

Under the deal, Frontier, based in Stamford, would:

  • add 85 new union jobs.
  • guarantee job security and workforce size.
  • give priority routing to Connecticut call centers.
  • open a new service center for dispatch and U-verse tech support.
  • move to a system in which technicians for U-verse and other services will be unified in order to speed and improve installations and repairs.
  • give all union members 100 shares of Frontier stock, which were worth $5.70 each after Wednesday’s close on the Nasdaq market.
  • extend the existing contract by two years to 2018.

The union members include customer service reps, line workers, engineers, splicers, installers, reviewers and support staff. CWA has shown a willingness to fight long and hard, most recently holding out for 13 months under an expired contract before signing a new agreement with AT&T – making it the last of the company’s U.S. bargaining units to do so after a 2012 contract expiration.

“After several months of complex negotiations, we are very pleased with the agreement reached today with Frontier,” said Bill Henderson, president of CWA Local 1298, in a joint statement issued by the union and the company. “We believe it is in the best interests of Connecticut’s telecommunications workers and consumers.”

“We are very pleased the CWA acknowledges the transaction’s benefit to the public,” said Daniel J. McCarthy, president and chief operating officer of Frontier, in the joint statement.  “Our discussions with the CWA about the Connecticut acquisition have been open, honest and ongoing.  We look forward to a strong partnership.”

McCarthy had said on Dec. 17, when the acquisition was announced, that the company could save $200 million a year in operating costs, though he also said the union would keep the same number of members. Frontier appears to have met some of the union’s demands, and in part, the union’s anger appears to have been based on a misunderstanding of what Frontier would do — after years in which AT&T has cut or downgraded thousands of jobs in the state.

The deal is expected to close in the last quarter of this year, pending approval by the Federal Communications Commission and by the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, which opens its hearings Thursday at its offices in New Britain.


Not-So-Easy Money On The Boughton Campaign Trail

by Categorized: Labor, Politics Date:

It might not do much to ease unemployment among Republicans, but Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton is offering what he says is a quick buck.

The Boughton campaign is advertising to hire petition circulators, at $2 per signature plus bonuses, in his effort to amass at least 8,190 signed names by June 10.

Boughton and his running mate for Lieutenant Governor, Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, need the signatures in order to appear on the Aug. 12 primary ballot.  Boughton qualified with more than 15 percent of delegates at the GOP state convention this month but Lauretti later joined him, so they need the signatures as a ticket.

“It is a great way to make money fast,” says a release from the Boughton campaign issued Tuesday.

It sounds easy, but a circulator would have to be smart and efficient to make real money. There aren’t a lot of densely populated neighborhoods with active Republicans teeming the streets, especially in the part of the state where Boughton’s name is familiar.

Oh, and the circulators must be registered Republicans, under state election laws.

With some already in hand, the campaign needs about 500 signatures a day for the next 15 days to reach the goal.

The $2-per-signature offer is neither a desperate measure nor highly unusual, Boughton’s campaign manager, Heath Fahle, said Tuesday just after issuing the call. We don’t see it very often in Connecticut in part because of the 15 percent threshold for statewide primaries, but, he said, in some states there are people who make their living on election petitions.

No, the Boughton campaign doesn’t have any itinerant, carpet-bagging circulators.  “There are more people volunteering to help than there are accepting payment,” Fahle reports. “The outpouring of support from our volunteers has really been terrific…The staff spent literally the entire Memorial Day weekend dropping off petition forms in at least 60 towns, probably more than that.”

The Boughton-Lauretti campaign must also raise at least $250,000 in increments of $5 to $100 in order to qualify for $1.36 million in the primary in an effort to beat Tom Foley, who won the convention nod, and Sen. John McKinney. “It’s chewing bubble gum and juggling at the same time,” Fahle said.

The campaign checked with the state Elections Enforcement Commission on paying circulators, but not with the state Department of Labor.

If the workers are considered employees, they need to receive at least the minimum wage for all hours they work. If they’re contractors, the arrangement must pass a so-called ABC test. Workers must be “free from direction and control,” for example, and they must be engaged in an “independently established trade.”

Nancy Steffens, a Labor Department spokeswoman, said it was impossible to tell from Boughton’s materials whether the arrangement would meet the standards.


New Haven Machinist Falls Short In National Challenge But Vows To Appeal

by Categorized: Aerospace, Labor Date:

Jay Cronk, the longtime Machinists union official from Connecticut who challenged the IAM’s international president in a historic national election, has lost the vote but said he isn’t done fighting.

A tally of preliminary results released Friday by the IAM shows that Thomas Buffenbarger, IAM president since 1997, outpolled Cronk by 23,545 to 11,163 in voting at about 800 Machinist local lodges around the country during April, including several in Connecticut.

machinist tallyTurnout was light among about 570,000 active and retired union members who were eligible to vote. And the Machinists who did vote made history, as it was believed to be the first-ever national election for president in the union’s 125-year history.

It was a bitter fight filled with accusations on both sides. Cronk, 59, now a Metro North mechanic in New Haven, said it’s not over. He and his challenge slate for the top IAM positions, posted accusations on the IAM Reform website, saying Buffenbarger’s team threatened local union officials to campaign for the incumbents and illegally used union money to campaign.

Cronk’s slate also charged that there are “significant anomalies in the voting results.”

Jay Cronk Rick Hartford/The Hartford Courant

Jay Cronk
Rick Hartford/The Hartford Courant

“We intend to ask the Department of Labor to investigate these serious violations, through every avenue available to us,” Cronk said in a written statement. “Unseating a corrupt and entrenched bureaucracy will require our continued strength and focus.”

Rick Sloan, a spokesman for the incumbent slate, declined to respond directly to the charges, but he said, “From day one, this was all about running up the bill and increasing the cost to the union and that’s what his plan is now and has been all along. …He lost big-time. He got less than 2 percent of the entire union.”

The U.S. Department of Labor oversaw the election, including the counting of ballots this week, under an agreement with the Machinists arising from the union’s alleged improper handling of a 2013 election.

Buffenbarger, who recently visited Connecticut for a Machinists union conference in Groton, said in a written release, “Our members have spoken and we thank them for their support. They overwhelmingly rejected an effort to move this union backwards and we now turn our full attention to moving the IAM forward.”

The unofficial tally shows that the 10 incumbent slate candidates for the 10 positions polled between 29,337 and 21,486 votes.  The seven challenge slate candidates polled between 12,751 and 10,690 votes.

A strong Machinists union benefits the economy as a whole including in Connecticut, where the IAM represents several thousand workers, about 2,500 at Pratt & Whitney in East Hartford and Middletown. So the opening of the process that generally shuns national elections is probably good as well.

Cronk, who was fired from his union headquarters job a few days after he announced his candidacy in November, returned to the Metro North job he left 22 years ago. Even if the loss in this election holds up, he’ll be remembered as the first Machinist union member to force a national election for president, by winning enough union locals in nominating contests.

As Chaos Clears, Waterbury Hospital Could Be Acquired By September

by Categorized: Health Care, Labor, Politics Date:

The troubled Waterbury Hospital is poised for a takeover by a Dallas-based corporation as soon as Sept. 30 if Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signs a hastily adopted bill that emerged from chaos in the legislature over the last two days.

The bill allows for-profit hospitals to employ doctors, undoing the major hurdle that had threatened a plan by Tenet Healthcare Corp. to acquire Waterbury, Bristol, Manchester Memorial and Rockville General hospitals.

It also adds a new twist that was not part of the public debate: Any hospital that acquires a practice with eight or more doctors must gain a “certificate of need” from the state Department of Public Health, a process hospitals must follow under existing law whenever they add or close medical services.

The bill does not offer the direct protections for workers that labor groups fought for two years to include. But labor groups signed off anyway, clearing the way for overwhelming votes in the House and Senate, because the bill strengthens regulators’ powers to assure quality of care and adds local hearings that must become part of the official record.

Labor groups were also pleased that the bill adds a “firewall” between a hospital system’s for-profit businesses and core, not-for-profit operations. The shifting of employees from core hospital units to profitable satellite businesses is a fierce battleground in health care.

Waterbury Hospital is the furthest along of four that Tenet is moving toward acquiring. On Thursday Trip Pilgrim, the Tenet senior vice president of development and point man for the deals, said the company is still sorting out everything the bill says, but he’s confident it will not stop the mergers.

“We’re pleased,” Pilgrim said Thursday. “We got a bill that we think allows us to continue to pursue these transactions. We’re going to do that.”

That was not assured. Tenet had said all along that it would pull out of the state if lawmakers added new regulations, and at 11:44 p.m. Wednesday, just after the bill passed, the company issued a statement casting doubt.

Tenet and Waterbury Hospital are about halfway through the rigorous certificate of need process with state regulators. That approval could come within two to five months, Pilgrim estimated, and with other state and federal reviews, the deal appears likely to close in 2014.

Bristol is the next furthest along but has not yet sought a certificate of need, and Manchester and Rockville are not far behind Bristol in the process, Pilgrim said.

All four not-for-profit hospitals have signed letters of intent with Tenet, a for-profit, publicly traded chain of 77 hospitals.  All four would be owned by a new joint venture that’s partly owned by Yale New Haven Health System, with YNH, already Connecticut’s largest hospital system, helping to coordinate the statewide care.

The bill passed overwhelmingly by bleary-eyed lawmakers in the last hour before the session expired, with little or no debate and with little chance for rank and file members to review it and ask questions. But people who had been on both sides of the issue said it represented a fair solution for now, with more battles likely to come.

“The compromise bill passed late last night is a good start toward protecting patients and local economies faced with conversion of their community hospitals,” said Melodie Peters, president of AFT Connecticut, which represents hundreds of nurses, and a former state senator. “There is still much work to be done to assure a clear, transparent process for holding health management corporations seeking to take over our acute care facilities accountable.”

Peters noted that the bill “comes up short” on protections.

The issue at the heart of the bill is the measure allowing for-profit hospitals to employ doctors — a relationship that could create incentives for docs to make decisions based on finances, not just health.  To avert those potential conflicts, existing law allows hospitals to affiliate with and essentially control “medical foundations” that employ doctors — but that system is only available to not-for-profit hospitals, a limit in place only in Connecticut.

The new bill extends it to for-profit hospital companies such as Tenet.

Tenet had originally fought hard for the bill, then changed course — saying it could affiliate with doctors at all of its Connecticut hospitals through Yale New Haven Health System.  Attorney General George Jepsen, in a strongly worded letter to lawmakers last week, warned that there was no assurance he would approve that scheme.

Jepsen’s letter drove both sides to reach a deal. Labor groups accepted lower protections because they feared the Tenet-Yale plan would work, leaving them with nothing.

And supporters of the merger feared a long, bloody court battle if Jepsen rejected the plan — so they agreed to protections such as the new regulation on doctors’ groups and new limits on shifting work.




Last-Minute Bill Would Quietly Exempt UConn Police From State Rules

by Categorized: Education, Government, Labor, Politics Date:

A measure buried deep in a last-minute, 326-page bill at the state Capitol would exempt the UConn police force from state hiring rules, allowing the university to create its own job classifications that could lead to more pay for officers.

The change was not proposed and did not receive a public hearing during the session that ends at midnight Wednesday, though it has come up in the past, most recently in 2013.

UConn police officers would still be in the union that represents protective services officers. But under the change, UConn, which has an authorized force of 76 sworn officers, would “establish classifications” for the police force jobs at all of the university’s campuses, including the health center in Farmington.

UConn Police Chief Barbara O’Connor has pushed for the change, saying it would add flexibility and speed by giving her the ability to hire from a list that is tailor made, rather than the longer list of approved applicants compiled by the state Department of Administrative Services. She told CTMirror last year it would let her department “control the…process.”

O’Connor declined to comment on the pending bill through UConn spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz late Wednesday, but Reitz said that on the state’s list of applicants, “there may be people whose original intent was not a campus police position. It just helps you kind of narrow it.”

It also could lead to abuses of the sort that the Department of Administrative Services is designed to avert.  And if it’s enacted, it shouldn’t happen as a last-minute slip-in in a midnight bill in the waning minutes of the legislative session, buried amid dozens of unrelated measures, unknown to most lawmakers who had to vote on it.

State Rep. Stephen Dargan, D-West Haven, co-chairman of the legislature’s public safety committee, just found out the measure was in place Tuesday — and tried to stop it. He said the carve-out could lead to lower standards and other problems and that some unions had concerns about it. Sneaking it into law, he said, “is not fair, it’s not right.”

UConn came under criticism in 2011 after my colleague Jon Lender revealed that then-UConn Police Chief Robert Hurd made $256,000 a year — far more than most of his counterparts in similar jobs around the country — and Maj. Robert Blicher made $202,000 a year. Both retired that year, in their mid-50s.

O’Connor was hired in 2011 at a salary of $164,000 and now makes $172,935.

The measure is designed to not allow UConn the leeway to pay higher wages to its police force, said Ben Barnes, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget chief.  That may be true under his tight controls, but a reading of the language appears to show some wiggle room, and some, including Dargan, believe UConn could pay its officers more than state troopers earn under the measure, by changing their job descriptions.

Broadly, the change is part of a trend under which UConn and other state agencies carve out their own rules for hiring, construction and other activities.

“We’ve made a lot of carve-outs for UConn,” said state Rep. Steven Mikutel, D-Griswold. “How many projects ended up being not done competently?”

He named a few, in construction. And when it comes to removing significant groups of unionized state employees from the classified services, an open debate — unlike what’s happening at the state Capitol — seems the better way to run the show.

Forums Scheduled on Hospital Takeovers In Rockville, Manchester

by Categorized: Health Care, Labor, Politics Date:

The Eastern Connecticut Health Network, which includes Rockville General and Manchester Memorial hospitals, has scheduled community discussions about the proposed sale of the hospitals to a for-profit chain.

Under the plan, ECHN, a not-for-profit corporation, would become part of a joint venture majority owned by Tenet Healthcare Corp., based in Texas. The Yale New Haven Health System would have a minority ownership and would be a “clinical partner,” helping to coordinate care.

Many are wondering how the sale would affect local employees and medical services. My in-depth column published Sunday makes it clear it’s too soon to know, but that there is no clear evidence that for-profit conversions lead to service reductions in former not-for-profit hospitals.

Eastern Connecticut Health Network has signed a letter of intent with Tenet but has not yet negotiated a sale agreement — which could be a crucial way of protecting services. Representatives of ECHN, Tenet and Yale New Haven will be at the meetings.

The public sessions are tonight, Tuesday, at 6 p.m. at Rockville High School and Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Manchester Memorial Hospital auditorium, which has limited seating.






UTC Machinists Voting Sunday On National Challenge By Local Candidate

by Categorized: Aerospace, Labor Date:

The historic, long-shot challenge by a Metro North mechanic trying to unseat the International Association of Machinists president comes to a vote at the union locals for Pratt & Whitney and UTC Aerospace on Sunday.

Jay Cronk, a mechanic at the New Haven rail yard and former Machinists union official, won the right to an election against IAM president Tom Buffenbarger at more than 800 local lodges around the United States and Canada. Cronk and his challenge slate won the endorsement of 42 locals, triggering a general election vote for president, believed to be a first in the union’s history.

Jay Cronk Rick Hartford/The Hartford Courant

Jay Cronk
Rick Hartford/The Hartford Courant

The campaign has been nasty, with accusations flying on web sites for both sides. And as voting unfolds at locals’ regular April meetings, both sides are claiming a strong hand.

“We’re crushing them,” said Rick Sloan, spokesman for the incumbent slate, including Buffenbarger.

Challenge slate spokesman John Courtmanche said it appeared to be a close race based on unofficial results filtering out. “Jay’s team is winning many lodges and many big lodges,” he said.

Voting is Sunday at the two lodges that represent about 2,500 Pratt workers at the East Hartford and Middletown plants; at the lodge that represents several hundred workers at United Technologies Aerospace Systems, formerly Hamilton Sundstrand, in Windsor Locks; at the Berlin lodge that represents Stanley Black & Decker; and at two Groton lodges.

Cronk’s local, representing Metro North, is scheduled to vote next week. Cronk returned to work there in December after a 22-year stint working for the union, mostly at the Maryland headquarters.

The Seattle area, where Boeing employees comprise about 10 percent of the roughly 325,000 active Machinist members, is a sharp battleground as a result of discontent stemming from a recent contract dispute.  Steve Wilhelm, a writer for the Puget Sound Business Journal, reported that he “criscrossed the parking lot” while voting was occurring on April 3, and found “every single person I asked, with no exceptions,” claiming to vote for Cronk and his slate.

Up for election are the president, the No. 2 position and eight general vice presidents who serve as the union’s board of directors, and hold full-time jobs at the headquarters.

Turnout could be a deciding factor. The endorsement votes, held nationwide Feb. 8, drew extraordinarily light numbers — just a small handful at the Connecticut lodges, sources said — because the union did not publicize that vote.

The U.S. Department of Labor is overseeing the election as a result of an agreement with the union after an accusation that the union did not properly handle a 2013 challenge.

For this month’s general election balloting, the local lodges have posted announcements of the national election on their web sites, and members are receiving some emails.

Cronk’s team said federal officials found that the Buffenbarger slate sent campaign materials to an email list meant for official union business. As a result, Labor Department officials emailed challenge slate materials to that same list, Courtmanche said.

A Labor Department spokesman had no comment and Sloan, the spokesman for Buffenbarger’s incumbent slate, also declined to comment about it.


Bill Would Require Labor Breakdown For Companies Receiving Big State Aid

by Categorized: Economic Development, Government, Labor, Politics, Public finance Date:

State taxpayers want to get their money’s worth when they give a company a huge aid package, and to that end, many lawmakers want to add a new hurdle.

Any firm that gets at least $10 million in state assistance would have to file a report showing how it intends to favor Connecticut-based contractors for any construction work covered by the aid, under a bill that advanced Thursday in the legislature.

The firms would also have to report on the names of construction contractors, the total number of full-time construction employees on the site and the wages paid, and the total number of construction workers on the project who live in Connecticut.

“We want to see more Connecticut construction jobs as a result of these state investments,” said state Sen. Gary D. LeBeau, co-chairman of the legislature’s Commerce Committee, which advanced the bill to the Senate floor in a 12-5 vote.

The bill is part of a long debate over how much the state should demand of the companies it backs with economic development aid. Unions support the bill and the Connecticut Business and Industry Association opposes it, saying it’s onerous.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s development commissioner, Catherine H. Smith, told lawmakers she’s concerned the bill “may dissuade some larger companies from considering the state.

The administration’s caution is probably wise. Promoting local jobs is great but we wouldn’t want other states to shut out Connecticut-based construction workers. And when it comes to new business regulations, Connecticut is on the watch list — so we should pass up even some decent ideas, for the greater good.

New Haven Machinist Forces National Election For Union Boss

by Categorized: Aerospace, Labor Date:

Jay Cronk, who returned to his Metro North job after 22 years with the long-shot hope of winning election as international head of the Machinists union, has made history.

Jay Cronk Rick Hartford/The Hartford Courant

Jay Cronk
Rick Hartford/The Hartford Courant

No, Cronk hasn’t wrested the top job from Thomas Buffenbarger — not yet, anyway. But Cronk has forced a national election for president, believed to be the first time that’s ever happened in the storied union’s 125 years.

The secret balloting will be held under U.S. Department of Labor supervision at the first April meeting of more than 800 Machinist union locals.  To make that happen, Cronk and his challenge slate had to win the nomination vote of at least 25 locals in a Feb. 8 vote.

The final tally: Cronk won 42 local lodges and Buffenbarger, who has headed the Maryland-based International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers since 1997, won 758.  Cronk won his own local in New Haven and the Middletown local at Pratt & Whitney, but not the East Hartford Pratt local.

So it’s still a long-shot for Cronk and his “reform slate” of six other Machinist union members vying to take over.  But Cronk said he’s optimistic. About 500,000 union members and retirees will be eligible to vote, and Cronk won the largest local, at Boeing in Seattle, along with three other locals there.

The campaign, already underway on web sites and Facebook pages, is not high-budget but it’s nasty — and has been since November, when Cronk was fired from his job as a union official in headquarters, the week he declared his candidacy, and returned to work as a mechanic.

“I think most IAM members are so fed up with Jay Cronk and his lies and his false accusations and his slimy tactics that they will crush him,” said Rick Sloan, spokesman for the incumbent officers, including Buffenbarger.

Cronk, who makes similar charges against the incumbents, has already defied predictions by winning the 42 lodges around the country. “This is where they never wanted to be,” he said of the sitting officers. “They have controlled the process for years.”

They still do control the process. Cronk’s main task is to get the word out to members nationwide that there’s a national election for president, something none of them has ever seen.

Plan To Charge Stores For Paying Low Wages: Flawed But Has Merit

by Categorized: Economy, Jobs, Labor, Politics, Poverty, Retail Date:

Connecticut is already one of the three states with the highest minimum wages and it’s the only one with mandatory paid sick days. Now advocates for the working poor are pushing for a novel plan to address the crisis of below-poverty wages: Penalize employers that pay too little.

The controversial plan isn’t in effect in any state and was narrowly defeated in Washington D.C., where Wal-Mart threatened to pull out. The idea is to extract money from low-paying retailers and fast-food companies to help the state compensate for the income supports that low-wage workers receive.

Fair is fair, the logic goes. Why should taxpayers subsidize Wal-Mart, McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts?

Tina Conners, a McDonald's employee in Manchester who lives in her car. Dan Haar/The Hartford Courant

Tina Conners, a McDonald’s employee in Manchester who lives in her car.
Dan Haar/The Hartford Courant

Care to get upset? A recent report by the Connecticut Association for Human Services showed that a family of four with two adults working a total of 60 hours a week at $10 an hour would be eligible for $29,147 a year in public assistance — much of it Medicaid. And that wouldn’t even include the earned income tax credit, which would push the total higher.

That means you the taxpayer are subsidizing you the shopper to the tune of thousands of dollars for every low-wage sales employee. Still feel good about those 12-packs of socks for $6?

Under the Connecticut version of the wage penalty bill, which had a hearing Tuesday before the legislature’s labor committee, any company with at least 500 employees in the state would have to pay $1 per hour per affected worker into state coffers if it paid less than the “standard wage” for its lowest job classification. For a minimum wage worker in fast food, for example, the standard wage is $11.31 an hour — 130 percent of the $8.70 minimum.

The idea has big problems, illustrated in the story of Tina Conners, who’s from Manchester and told lawmakers and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Tuesday, in a meeting in his office, that she lives in her car.  Conners, 21, works between 10 hours and 20 hours a week  at a local McDonald’s. She’d like to have more hours but can’t get them.

Conners was at the Capitol to push for the low-wage penalty and a higher minimum wage, which Malloy wants. But what she needs more than a slightly higher wage is many more hours. She told me she’d prefer to log 20 to 30 hours a week, leaving her time and money to go to college and eventually, a career as a dentist.

The $1 an hour penalty wouldn’t come close to paying for the public subsidies that we the taxpayers have to shell out for low-wage workers, but it would be a start. And it wouldn’t help Tina Conners add hours to her workweek; if anything, it could lead to fewer hours.

Another problem: Franchisers such as McD’s and Subway are not the employers. No worry, advocates say. Franchisers would be liable even if they didn’t own the stores in question.

Bills like this come up precisely because low-wage employers are abusing the public trust. We as greedy, shortsighted consumers are the ones letting them do it — all the worse in the case of the poison we’re buying and ingesting from the fast food industry.

And so the bill is politically brilliant if only for the point it makes: The fines would not go to the workers, in effect an enforced wage; rather, the money would go back to the taxpayers.  “Politically, it’s a no-brainer. It’s a home run,” said Tom Swan, executive director of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group and a leader of the effort. “Morally, it’s the right thing to do.”

It’s not a home run for the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association and the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, who argue that the bill would raise costs in the state and drive out retailers that pay property taxes and offer opportunity to workers. “Our employers do the best job they can,” said Tim Phelan, president of the retail merchants group.

Well, no, they don’t. He can say that about his small retail members that are just getting by, but not about the big national chains and franchises that are transferring billions of dollars from taxpayers to shareholders by shortchanging workers. McDonald’s employees alone receive $1.2 billion a year in public assistance, an October, 2013 report by the National Employment Law Project showed.

Phelan and CBIA advance the idea that low-wage jobs are entry level. “They provide the learning experience,” said Eric Gjede, assistant counsel at CBIA, the state’s largest business group.

Certainly any specific worker can get ahead, but by definition the system will screw most people, simply because the wage structure at many big retailers is so bottom-heavy.

Both sides flash numbers showing why states should, or should not, force employers to pay higher wages or penalize those that don’t.  But ultimately, the states are just bystanders in a private-sector pay system that creates opportunity for a few and poverty for the many, to the benefit of us the consumers.

Maybe we should try the penalty. Flawed as it is, nothing else is working.