BRIDGEPORT, Conn.—It’s an idea that’s perfectly aligned with pro-labor politics: Require big companies—such as McDonald’s and Walmart—to pay employees $15 an hour, or be charged a fee by the state in order to offset the cost of the public services their employees use.
There was a time when an arrangement like this would have originated with and been supported by a union, but instead, this idea—and a handful of other pro-worker, anti-big-business policies moving forward in Connecticut—comes from the Working Families Party, a progressive political party that has gained strength in Connecticut and across the country. This week, the Working Families Party is launching its proposal for a low-wage workers fee—as they’re calling it—and asking supporters to watch a video and sign a petition to get Governor Dannel Malloy behind the idea. The petition reads:
In CT, 83,000 people are “working poor.” They make less than $19,968/year while working at least 40 hours a week. That's only $384/week. Can you live on that? Massive companies, like Walmart and McDonald's, are forcing their employees to use public benefits in order to survive.
The Working Families Party has gained the most ground in places like Hartford and Bridgeport, where the state sees its worst rates of poverty and unemployment. In Hartford, the unemployment rate is 10 percent; in Bridgeport it’s 8.4 percent. The state average is only 6.3 percent. One-third of Connecticut families struggle to cover the cost of rent, food and basic expenses, according to the United Way, and many of them live in these two cities. Working Families appeals to “people that feel, in many ways, the system has been rigged against them,” Gary Rose, a professor of government, politics, and global studies at Sacred Heart University, told me.
The Working Families Party has had some impressive successes nationally as it tries to pull the Democratic Party to the left, as my colleague Molly Ball has reported. Some of its biggest wins have been in Connecticut. It was the Working Families Party, after all, that was instrumental in getting Governor Dannel Malloy elected in 2010. Malloy received 26,308 votes on the Working Families line, and he prevailed over his rival, Tom Foley, by just 20,000 votes. “The fact that they were able to help him win the governorship—I think that’s pretty significant,” Rose told me.