Baker signs ‘bargain bill’ to raise minimum wage

On the morning of June 28, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill that will raise the state’s minimum wage from $11.00 to $15.00 over the next five years, and raised wages for employees who receive tips from $3.75 to $6.75 over the same time period. The bill also contained several other mandates regarding worker benefits and tax breaks that would otherwise appear on the ballot in November.

“The product of this is a far better product for the Commonwealth than each of these as standalone entities would have been for Massachusetts, which is why I’m signing it,” Gov. Baker told reporters present at the signing.

In addition to the minimum wage increase, the bill also introduces a new paid leave program that would allow employees up to 12 weeks of paid family leave, and 20 paid weeks in the case of a medical situation. According to a statement from the governor’s office, the weekly amount an employee can receive will come from a percentage of that employee’s average wages, and is capped at $850 a week.

This new leave program will be paid in part by a new payroll tax increase of 0.63%, shared by both employees and employers.

The law will also enact  a permanent sales tax holiday for two days beginning next August and it will phase out time-and-half pay for employees working on Sundays. The latter has raised issues with some who argue that many who have benefiting from time-and-a-half will lose wages once the bill goes into effect.

“We are opposed to the bill in its final form because it actually cuts a lot of workers’ wages with the elimination of time-and-a-half pay on Sundays and holidays,”  Jim Carvalho, political director of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1445, told Public News Service.

The bill signing comes a couple of weeks after the Massachusetts State Supreme Court ruled the “millionaire’s tax” question unconstitutional. The proposed ballot question would set a four percent tax on individual income over a million dollars to be used on the state’s transportation and education needs. In response, state legislature passed the proposed “grand bargain” bill by 126 to 25 in the House and by voice vote in the Senate.

Assistant Majority Whip Jason M. Lewis told Spare Change News that the bill would not have passed without the support and communication of labor support groups, most importantly, Raise Up. “I worked closely with the Raise Up coalition,” Senator Lewis said. “And I really appreciate the incredible grassroots work they did with thousands of volunteers over Massachusetts in order to raise awareness about these issues.”

“This bill will lift up over a million workers across Massachusetts who will see more money in their paychecks. They’ll also have the strongest medical and family paid leave program in the country,” Senator Lewis said.

“We’ve won the Fight for $15, and we’ve won the fight to ensure that workers can take job-protected paid time off from work to take care of themselves or a family member after a medical emergency or the birth or adoption of a new child,” wrote Raise Up in a statement published last Thursday. Raise Up, a grassroots organization of community leaders, religious groups, and labor unions, also played a key role in raising the minimum wage to $11 dollars back in 2014.

 

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