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Recently adopted statewide minimum wage legislation will impact Bennington area organizations to differing extents, employers said this week.

The Vermont House of Representatives, by a 100-49 vote on Tuesday, overrode a veto of the wage-hike proposal by Gov. Phil Scott, who contended that the bill's "negative impacts on Vermont's economy, workers' hours and jobs will outweigh the positive benefits, especially in our more rural areas."

Earlier this month, the Senate overrode the governor by a vote of 24 to 6. The act requires that employers pay workers at least $11.75 by the start of 2021 and $12.55 by 2022. The current minimum wage is $10.96.

"Tens of thousands of Vermonters will see a much-needed pay raise each of the next two years thanks to the Senate and House overriding the Governor's veto," Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, wrote on Twitter. "We did it for them."

Kevin Dailey, vice president of human resources for Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, said in a statement that the organization expects "some, but not excessive, impact as a result of the change."

"Given the number of skilled professionals needed within [health care] organizations and the low unemployment rate, wages for many of our staff have risen more than the wages of those in other industries, even before the increase in the statewide minimum wage," Dailey said.

Similarly, entry pay at Mack Molding, the custom plastics molder based in Arlington, "is already well above both phases of the minimum wage increase, so we anticipate this change will have little impact on our organization," company president Jeff Somple said in a statement.

"However, I cannot speak for our local small businesses who may experience more direct financial stress as a result of this legislation," Somple continued. "Echoing Governor Scott, Vermont is more than the greater Burlington area - Southern Vermont is a very different place and economy - and I hope we do not suffer job losses and closed businesses as a result of the override."

Jonathan Cooper, a community and economic development specialist with the Bennington County Regional Commission, said that the average wages in Bennington County for workers in retail and accommodation and food services — two sectors typically impacted by minimum wage increases — are higher than statewide averages.

In retail, which represents about 12 percent of jobs in Vermont, Bennington County workers earn about $15.85 per hour on average, slightly more than the $15.25 state average, Cooper said. Accommodation and food services workers in Bennington County earn an average of $11.14 per hour, about 18 cents more than the state average.

The region's higher-than-average wages in those sectors may reflect a shortage of available workers, Cooper said.

Mona Golub, vice president of public relations and consumer services for Price Chopper, which has more than a dozen grocery stores in Vermont, including one in Bennington, said the company supports the continued increase of the minimum wage over time. But the increase to $12.55 by 2022, she said, is too steep.

The change may lead the company, which employs about 1,600 people in Vermont, to change workers' allotted hours, reduce the size of its workforce and increase the cost of goods on the shelf, Golub said.

Ryan Hassett, who owns several food-related establishments in the Bennington area, including Bringing You Vermont, a country store and cafe on Main Street downtown, said his prices will need to increase as a result of the legislation.

"I've kept my prices pretty much steady for three years," Hassett said. "I can't do it anymore."

State Rep. Kathleen James, who voted for the bill in January and the override this week, wrote in email a few days before the latter vote that, based on conversations with local business owners, she believes the change will constitute "a modest increase that our economy can absorb."

It also represents "a big step forward for the 40,000 low-wage Vermont workers who earn the minimum wage," 40 percent of whom are the head of their household and a majority of whom are women, wrote James, a Democrat whose district includes Arlington, Sandgate and Manchester. "A pay raise brings these Vermonters more spending power and more financial stability — which in the end, helps us all."

Two local governmental representatives acknowledged the change will have some impact on their respective entities, though they did not delve into specifics.

Bennington Town Manager Stuart Hurd wrote in an email that the municipality hires "a number of part-timers," most of whom "are now paid more than the current minimum wage, but not quite this amount." The minimum wage increase therefore will increase the town's budget, he wrote.

The town employs or has employed a part-time custodian, downtown laborers in the summer, poll workers and, prior to the management agreement with the Berkshire Family YMCA, various Rec Center workers, Hurd wrote.

Katie West, public information coordinator for the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, wrote in an email that the change "will affect us eventually" but that she could not "yet speak to the extent of that impact."

Contact Luke Nathan at lnathan@benningtonbanner.com.


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