GLENS FALLS -- An increase in the state minimum wage should be linked with unemployment insurance system reform so that the employer’s total cost of wages and benefits does not change, said Democratic state Assembly candidate Carrie Woerner.
“We can’t do one without the other. That wouldn’t be fair,” Woerner said Wednesday in a meeting with The Post-Star editorial board.
Woerner, who is running against incumbent Assemblyman Tony Jordan, R-Jackson, in the 113th Assembly District, said unemployment insurance reform should include a combination of benefit reductions and rules changes.
“I wouldn’t eliminate it all together. But let’s think about lower benefits, a shorter period of time for benefits,” she said.
She said rules should be changed to prohibit a worker laid off from one job from collecting benefits from a previous job that the worker left voluntarily.
“That’s not right and it drives up the contributions for everybody,” she said.
If unemployment costs are reduced, employers could use the savings to pay a higher minimum wage, but without reforming the unemployment system, increasing the minimum wage would have an “unintended cost” of forcing employers to lay off workers, she said.
“The overall cost of an hour of labor can’t go up,” she said.
Jordan, contacted for comment, said the Assembly Republican conference already has been advocating to change rules that address unemployment costs being shifted to previous employers.
“That is something we’ve been bringing to the attention of the state now for a couple of years, saying it is unfair to the employer to penalize them in that way,” he said.
Jordan said he is open to considering changes to the unemployment system, but those changes, alone, might not be enough to offset an increase in the minimum wage.
“It’s certainly something we should look at. ... I don’t think that’s going to be the singular answer to offset costs to our small businesses,” he said.
Woerner said that increasing the minimum wage would stimulate the economy, because workers would have more money to spend.
In May, the Assembly, by a vote of 98-29, passed legislation to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 and hour to $8.50 an hour next Jan. 1, with annual increases based on inflation each Jan. 1 thereafter.
The bill did not pass the Senate.
Jordan said that the automatic annual inflation increase was one of the reasons he voted against the bill.
Over time, the increases could be significant, and could force small business to lay off employees, he said.
Jordan said expanding the state-earned income tax credit program might be a better way to assist low-wage workers.
Woerner is a Round Lake trustee and a Malta Planning Board member.
She manages a company that designs computer software that customers, primarily banks, use to schedule conference calls.
Woerner said, if elected, she would work with legislators of both parties to address issues of common concern.
She said the state needs to focus its economic development strategy more on high-tech manufacturing.
“Our region has been really been basing its economy on tourism, education and government, which are not growth industries,” Woerner said.
Woerner said the state should focus more on job retention, specifically mentioning the planned relocation of jobs at the Covidien medical device plant in Argyle.
Covidien, in July 2011, announced plans to close its plant in Argyle, which employs about 200 people, to consolidate production with a facility in Costa Rica.
The company later delayed the time frame for the closing until late 2013.
“Look at Covidien in Argyle. ... Nobody at the state level did anything to try to stop it -- nobody,” Woerner said.
Jordan and Tori Riley, president and executive director of the Washington County Local Development Corp., disputed Woerner’s claim.
Woerner said Riley was the one who told her the state did not attempt to retain the jobs.
“Well if you talk to Tori Riley at the LDC, she’ll tell you that no one tried to stop them,” Woerner said.
Riley said Woerner must have misunderstood a conversation they had about Covidien.
“I’m sure that Carrie did not mean to misspeak. But clearly that was not what was said to her,” she said.
Riley said she told Woerner once the company decided to close the plant, there appeared to be nothing the state could do to change the decision.
Jordan said he personally called company officials and was told the company would not reconsider its decision.