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Opinion: Business owners back wage hike

The Vermont legislature has spent considerable time over the past two years evaluating legislation that will raise Vermont’s minimum wage to $15/hour. The current bill being considered would increase the minimum wage incrementally to $15 by 2024. On the national level, there is also a push to double the federal minimum wage to bring it up to $15/hour.
As small-business owners in Vermont, we support these proposals. In addition to our personal beliefs that this is the right thing to do, we believe that an increased minimum wage is good for employees and helps grow the local economy. One of us is the co-founder of Stonecutter Spirits, which makes gin and whiskey in Middlebury, and Highball Social, a bar and restaurant in Burlington, with 20 employees. The other of us is the owner of Vermont Glove (formerly Green Mountain Glove), producing work gloves and protectors for utility professionals, with nine employees in Randolph.
Between the two of us, our businesses represent manufacturing, retail, and restaurants, and we have committed to paying all of our employees a minimum of $15/hour regardless of whether they’re in production, sales, or service. We have done so not only as a retention tool, but as a way to support our employees and the health and wellbeing of their families.
We don’t make these choices lightly. In fact, we’ll admit honestly that choosing to increase pay scares us. Cash is tight. Our businesses are growing but are not yet stable. Making any decision to pay more than the absolute minimum required by law might seem crazy to some. And yet, we consider our employees to be like family members, and we know that our communities and economy benefit when workers are able to make a livable wage and support themselves and their families.
With the high costs of housing, childcare, and health care, Vermonters making the current minimum wage of $10.78/hour are unable to afford basic expenses for their families on their own. The resulting instability is bad for employees and employers alike. Instead, an increase to $15/hour will enable workers to make ends meet and solidify stable living situations, which encourages long-term employment and retention at our local businesses.
We see raising the minimum wage as a differentiator for Vermont, building on the values we have as a state and making it an attractive place to live, work and raise families. And while more workers will be able to support their basic needs with a minimum wage increase, increased take-home pay also means raising their spending power and ability to boost our local economy. What goes around comes around; more cash in people’s pockets leads to more spending at local businesses.
As businesses owners, we have a responsibility to our employees. Everyone deserves to earn a meaningful wage, and to do so through work that itself is meaningful. The minimum wage bill being proposed this year would help provide this opportunity for Vermont’s workers while encouraging a strong, stable workforce for our local businesses.
Sivan Cotel is co-founder of Stonecutter Spirits in Middlebury and Highball Social in Burlington; Sam Hooper is the owner of Vermont Glove (formerly Green Mountain Glove) in Randolph.

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