Exercising his veto power for the first time, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont late last month rejected three laws passed by the Democrat-led General Assembly in 2019.
Governor Lamont vetoed a bill that would have resulted in lower wages for some restaurant workers who receive tips for only part of their work. The bill also would have had serious implications for several pending lawsuits regarding compensation for restaurant workers. It also contained provisions that made changes to the state’s Workforce Training Authority board, within the Department of Labor.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, disapproved of this last veto in particular. “I am disappointed the governor choose to veto a bill that I believe helps Connecticut businesses grow,” he said. “Over the next few days I will be talking with members about what action we will take.”
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, and her deputy, Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, strongly condemned Lamont’s veto of this restaurant wage legislation. “The bill that was an attempt to bring certainty to the restaurant labor force,” said Candelora. “This veto is yet another nail in the coffin for our restaurant industry.”
Restaurants will already struggle under a minimum wage rising to $15 over the next four years, a new 1 percent surcharge on restaurant meals and prepared food and a half percent payroll deduction for paid by all workers for family and medical leave benefits, Klarides and Candelora said.
Klarides called the legislative session “the most anti-business of our lifetime,” and said this “very insidious” veto proves Lamont is an “anti-business governor,.
“This bill (H. B. 5001) protects not only small businesses, but employees as well,” noted the Connecticut Restaurant Association’s Scott Dolch. “Class action lawsuits such as these threaten to put restaurants owners out-of-business, placing hundreds of jobs in jeopardy.”
A two-third vote of the both the House and Senate is required to override a governor’s veto. Klarides predicted a “very good chance” of an override for the restaurant wages bill, adding that legislative leaders are already discussing it. “Sometimes a governor can forestall a veto override by promising to work with the legislature to fix a flaw in the bill,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven.
Rather than hold a press conference, Lamont issued a press release to address his position on wages for restaurant workers. Lamont wrote that he did not wholly oppose part of the bill which would align state law with federal law in outlining when restaurant workers receive a lower, “tip wage” versus a standard minimum wage. But he did such a change should be made “after study, debate and input from affected stakeholders,” which he said did not happen.
State law allows restaurants to pay workers a tip wage only for hours when they are engaged with patrons in “service duties,” and the higher minimum wage for other duties. But if restaurants forget to keep track of when workers are engaged in each kind of duty, they owe the higher minimum wage for the whole shift. Federal law allows restaurants to pay workers the lower tip wage more of the time. The tip wage for most restaurant service workers is $6.38 per hour, or $8.23 for bartenders, whereas the minimum wage is now $10.10.
Lamont did strongly object to a part of the legislation that said new Connecticut tip wage regulations would apply retroactively to wage dispute lawsuits pending or filed on or after the bills’ passage.
“Any such civil actions, of course, would be brought to pursue claims for wages earned at a time when the regulation at issue was in effect,” Lamont wrote. “This retroactive attempt to extinguish a worker’s right to recover wages in an amount lawfully required and earned is patently unfair to the affected workers. The bill also contained provisions that made changes to grants, membership and training assistance of the state’s Workforce Training Authority board, which Lamont did not object to.
Lamont also vetoed a bill increasing the criminal penalty for the theft of used cooking oil, Lamont also did not believe that restaurants battling an uptick in used cooking oil theft, which can be recycled into bio-diesel, should see more jail time for the greasy burglars. Lamont argued that the degree of an offense and its penalty is associated with the value of the goods stolen. Changing the penalty for used cooking oil but not other goods “privileges the theft of one particular product and the protection of one particular industry over other Connecticut property owners,” Lamont wrote.
“A person who steals $35 worth of waste vegetable oil should not face the prospect of a prison sentence four times greater than that faced by a person who steals $35 worth of gasoline,” Lamont wrote. Candelora, who owns the Connecticut Sportsplex, whose vendors use cooking oil that must be recycled, said he thought the bill had “merit.” “We want to make sure that market stays strong,” said Candelora, referring to businesses who recycle cooking oil into grease and bio-diesel.