Categorized | Massachusetts, Pushback

Citizens Force State To Pass Paid Family Leave & Wage Hikes

caring, caregiver, elderly woman

Massachusetts lawmakers passed legislation that would raise the minimum wage very slowly to $15 per hour and create a new paid family and medical leave benefit that will help families caring for disabled and elderly relatives.

By Al Norman

Pushed against a wall, Massachusetts lawmakers passed legislation that would raise the minimum wage very slowly to $15 per hour and create a new paid family and medical leave benefit that will help families caring for disabled and elderly relatives.

The main reason the General Court approved the measure is because citizen’s groups forced their hand by putting both proposals on November’s state ballot. Lawmakers called their bill a “grand bargain” because they had to get business groups and labor groups to agree to the plan and drop their November proposals.

The bill raises the Massachusetts minimum wage from $11 to $15 by the year 2023. That’s an extra year to wait compared to the proposed ballot question. The bill also increases wages for workers who are tipped from $3.75 an hour today to $6.75 an hour — but slowly over five years,

By 2023, the minimum wage will need to be adjusted again to deal with inflation. The version headed for the ballot would have adjusted the minimum wage for inflation after 2023, but the legislature dropped that provision. The legislature also made municipal workers ineligible for the minimum wage hike and added language that penalizes workers by denying them time and a half pay for working on Sundays and holidays.

The paid leave provisions will not begin until 2021. Workers will be eligible to take up to 12 weeks of paid family leave,up to 20 weeks for personal medical leave, and up to 26 weeks for parental leave. A 0.63  percent payroll tax on workers and employers will pay for the leave, costing less than $5 per week per employee. The employer and the worker will each pay half the tax.  Employees will have their share deducted from their paychecks starting in the summer of 2019 — but the new leave benefits will not start until 2021. An employee’s compensation under the program would be a percentage of his or her salary, capped at $850 a week. A 20 week leave, for example, would provide a worker with a maximum of $17,000 in leave pay. Paid family leave is an important new benefit for Massachusetts workers. In the past, if a worker wanted to take time off to care for a sick elderly relative, he or she likely had to suffer through weeks with no pay.

As part of the “grand bargain” to get businesses to support the cost of paid family and medical leave, the General Court gave Massachusetts retailers something they lobby for every year: a permanent sales tax holiday every August.  The downside is that a “tax holiday” causes the state budget to lose much-needed revenue. According to a study by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, the last sales-tax holiday in 2015 resulted in a $25.5 million loss of revenue to the state. One state lawmaker said she would rather pay a sales tax than see schools rely on parents for donations of classroom supplies like crayons and pencils. Lawmakers hoped that the sales tax holiday would be sufficient to get the Retailers Association of Massachusetts to agree to withdraw their ballot question for November which would lower the state’s sales tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent.

Lawmakers are not concerned if Gov. Charlie Baker vetoes the bill, because both the House and Senate margins in favor of the legislation were sufficient to override the Governor. But Baker suggested the bill was “great news,” no doubt because both the governor and the legislature don’t want it to look like citizens groups are dominating the agenda because of the do-nothing attitude on Beacon Hill.

But that’s exactly what happened. Because citizens’ groups gathered tens of thousands of signatures on these petitions, new paid family leave and minimum wage laws are finally on the books in Massachusetts.

Al Norman worked as an advocate in the community elder care field in Massachusetts for 38 years. He is the author of four books; his latest, RAVINGS: American Wild Talk, can be found on Amazon. He can be reached at: alnormaneldercare@gmail.com

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