The Legislature has reached an agreement on a deal to raise the minimum wage to $15, institute paid family and medical leave and create a permanent sales tax holiday, in an attempt to keep multiple proposed ballot questions off the November 2018 ballot.
The Massachusetts House Ways and Means Committee released a bill Wednesday morning. Both the House and the Senate plan to vote on the bill Wednesday and send it to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, called it a “fair compromise” that “will be fair to the workers to the commonwealth and fair to the businesses as well.”
Advocates for the ballot questions have until July 3 to submit their final signatures to Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin, so the Legislature is under a tight deadline to act.
Baker had been pushing for a compromise to keep the questions off the ballot. The governor said Wednesday morning that he has not yet read the legislation, but he called the agreement “good news.”
“I have a pretty longstanding policy about not commenting on legislation I haven’t read,” Baker said. “But based on what I’ve heard so far, it certainly fits the contours of what I thought a grand bargain on this stuff would look like.”
The Retailers Association of Massachusetts had been pushing for a reduction in the state sales tax as well as the creation of a permanent sales tax holiday.
The compromise would create a permanent annual sales tax holiday each August, but would not lower the state sales tax.
In a concession to businesses, the bill would eliminate time and a half pay on Sunday, phasing it out over five years.
Raise Up Massachusetts, a coalition of labor, clergy and liberal organizing groups, had been pushing for ballot questions to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and establish paid family and medical leave.
The proposed compromise would raise the minimum wage to $15 over five years. There would be a lower wage increase for tipped workers. There would not be a “training wage” for teenage workers.
It would also establish a paid family and medical leave program. People would be eligible for leave to take care of a newborn or newly adopted child, to deal with a health issue, to care for a family member or to deal with a family member’s absence due to military service.
The leave would be 12 weeks for family leave, 20 weeks for medical leave and up to 26 weeks to cover for a service member or 26 weeks total in a year. A person’s job would be protected.
The first week would be unpaid, although an employee could use accrued leave. If someone is earning less than 50 percent of the average state wage, they would be paid 80 percent of their salary during their leave. If they are earning more than that, they would be paid 50 percent of their salary. The maximum pay would be $850 a week, a figure that would be adjusted annually.
The benefits would be paid for by employer contributions to a new state Family and Employment Security Trust Fund. Only businesses larger than 25 workers would have to pay into the fund.
Rep. Paul Brodeur, D-Melrose, House chairman of the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, said the bill was the result of months of negotiation with business and labor. “We feel confident…that it is a very fair deal that all parties will find acceptable,” Brodeur said.
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