War of words over raising minimum wage

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka speaks at a rally near the Art Museum in support of raising the minimum wage. In New Jersey, a group launched a website arguing against a higher wage.

Three weeks ago, President Obama and Connecticut Gov. Dannell P. Malloy ate lunch at Cafe Beauregard in New Britain, Conn.

The restaurant became the setting Thursday night for the governor to sign a law lifting the state's minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, from $8.25.

That will make the Nutmeg State the first to heed Obama's call to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, up from the current national minimum of $7.25.

"Increasing the minimum wage is not just good for workers, it's also good for business," Malloy said in a statement Wednesday.

Not so, says a group that opposes raising the minimum wage and that launched a website - BadIdeaNJ.com - and an advertising campaign in New Jersey on Thursday.

Even though a referendum to increase New Jersey's wage to $8.25 from $7.25 was overwhelmingly approved by Jersey voters and became effective in January, the Employment Policies Institute, a Washington group that developed the website, is looking beyond the Garden State.

The institute and other opponents typically argue that minimum-wage increases will cause businesses to cut hours or staff, hurting low-wage workers. Advocates say giving workers higher pay will prompt them to spend more, aiding the economy.

"Understanding which set of arguments holds true is vitally important right now, as federal, state and local governments consider even larger increases to the minimum wage than what New Jersey passed," the institute said in the survey report.

Late last year, just before the increase kicked in, the institute surveyed about 225 employers at groceries, restaurants, gas stations, and clothing stores, asking how the New Jersey increase would affect their businesses.

A majority of the owners said they planned to increase prices to cover the increase, but they were evenly divided on whether they would reduce hours. While 49.4 percent said they would cut staff, 43.5 percent said cuts were unlikely.

Meanwhile, at a Thursday morning rally in Philadelphia in support of raising the minimum wage, Robyn Richardson told her news to a small, shivering crowd gathered at the Eakins Oval near the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Richardson, of West Philadelphia, had just landed a second job.

It wasn't good news.

Richardson said the money she earns from her $8-an-hour job at a fast-food restaurant isn't enough for her to care for her son, Duncan, 11 months old. She earns so little that she qualifies for food stamps, and a second job means she won't have much time to spend with her son.

"Workers are making barely enough to get a bus to take to work," she said.

Listening to her was State Sen. Christine Tartaglione, a Democrat from Northeast Philadelphia. She has introduced a bill to raise Pennsylvania's minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, up from $7.25.

When Richardson was done speaking, she got a hug from AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, the head of the nation's largest labor federation. Organized labor is backing Obama's push for a $10.10 minimum wage.

Standing in front of a bus decorated as a rolling billboard, with the words Give America a Raise painted in blue on a yellow background, Trumka told the group that raising the minimum wage "is good for the workers, it's good for the community, it's good for the country, and it's going to be good for everybody."