MONTPELIER -- A group of Vermont lawmakers called Tuesday for a new "bill of economic rights," including a significantly higher minimum wage, guaranteed paid sick days and a requirement that employers have just cause before firing anyone.
Rep. Chris Pearson, a Burlington Progressive, said the measures were aimed at narrowing a widening gap between rich and poor in Vermont. Pearson pointed to a chart showing changes in income for various brackets from 2011 to 2012. It showed those making more than $1 million saw their incomes grow by 18.6 percent on average, while those making between $15,000 and $20,000 saw them drop by an average of 2.6 percent.
"I would not have the courage to create this if I were creating propaganda, so I'm very grateful to the Vermont Department of Taxes for providing this data," Pearson said.
Pearson was joined by Democrats, an independent and one Republican at the news conference calling for the changes.
He said he would like the minimum wage to reach $15 an hour, up from the current $8.73 an hour. Rep. Paul Poirier, I-Barre, said he would like to see the minimum raised to $12.50. But when questioned about the difference with Pearson's figure, Poirier said he could support a $15 hourly wage.
Rep. Francis "Topper" McFaun, a Barre Town Republican, said he also supports a minimum wage hike partly to find out what effect it would have on jobs and the unemployment rate.
The group also called for legally guaranteed paid sick leave, which would be a first for Vermont. The proposal would allow workers to accrue one hour of paid time off for each 30 hours worked, up to 56 hours -- or seven days -- per year. Rep. Kesha Ram, D-Burlington, said she also wanted workers who are victims of domestic violence to be able to get paid time off.