Legislators talk session with chamber

State legislators attend the Central Connecticut Chamber of Commerce legislative breakfast on Wednesday, Feb. 20. (Photo by Mike Chaiken)

TAYLOR MURCHISON-GALLAGHER

STAFF WRITER

The Central Connecticut Chamber of Commerce hosted a legislative breakfast on Wednesday, Feb. 20, and several legislators addressed legislative topics of interest.

State Senator Henri Martin, state Representative Mike Demicco, state Representative Whit Betts, state Representative Chris Ziogas, state Representative John Piscopo, state Representative Dr. William Petit, and state Re-presentative Cara Pavalock-D’Amato, answered questions regarding workforce development, minimum wage and paid family medical leave.

The questions were developed by the chamber’s Legislative Action Committee, which is co-chaired by Bristol Hospital CEO Kurt Barwis, and Carey Manufacturing general manager Paul Lavoie.

Martin addressed concerns of workforce development, saying that part of the solution to connecting workers with open jobs will be work in partnership with the education system. He said that while there are approximately 11,000 to 13,000 open jobs, it is projected to jump to 27,000 jobs over the next 10 years.

“We know that there are 25,000 jobs ahead of us over a 10-year period and I think it’s important that we not only have apprenticeship programs for the manufacturing sector,” said Martin, “but we also need to start connecting our youth starting from the middle school to high school, as well as the higher education, to these jobs that are available. So, identifying what the workforce needs are in those sectors, with our youth today.” Ziogas shared similar sentiments, saying that after visiting a manufacturing facility on Lake Avenue, the gentleman running the facility said “the state needs to start thinking about what’s the difference between how we train our children  are they students or are they going to be workers?”

According to Ziogas, one of the bottlenecks in the work of legislators is that the state “requires a certain amount of education and qualifications to teach our children.”

“You don’t need to be a teacher to teach them certain CDC or foresight products. The guy that has 30 years experience is better able to teach, but he may not be qualified to teach according to some of our standards,” said Ziogas. “I think the community college system is doing a lot. Goodwin Tech has a trailer that they bring around to manufacturers and what they try to do is provide mentorship programs to the existing employees so that the older, skilled employees can then train the younger, newer employees coming in.”

Pavalock-D’Amato referred to a previous conversation with a small business owner while addressing the idea of a minimum wage increase. The legislator said that it’s a cumulative effect of an increase in pay, the fees associated with running a business, and taxes business owners must pay, that put a burden on small business owners.

“[Minimum wage jobs] weren’t meant to be careers, these are starting jobs for individuals,” said Pavalock-D’Amato. “I’d rather focus our time and energy into getting people into careers, training them  you don’t have look further than our backyard with Tunxis  and I think that’s where we should be focusing our time and money.”

Betts agreed, saying he was “strongly opposed” to an increase in minimum wage because of how it will affect small businesses.

“We’ve heard many, many times that small businesses are the backbone to our state’s economy. And yet, every time we have this debate about minimum wage, and we ask them how they feel about it, what the impact is, it’s always the same,” said Betts. “I always ask the same question to the proponent: does this increase create any jobs? Is this going to do anything to improve our economy? You’re the ones that are going to be impacted by this, tell me the impact of it. Or, will it cost jobs?”

Betts described a minimum wage increase as “self-fulfilling” because it will adversely impact and increase function costs for many small businesses.

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Taylor Murchison-Gallagher, email her at TMurchison@BristolObserver.com.