Editorial: New minimum wage a step in the right direction

  • Nate Clifford, general manager at Cornucopia Foods in Northampton, talks about the 2019 increase in the Massachusetts minimum wage on Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, at Thornes Marketplace. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jarred Powers, an employee at State Street Fruit Store in Northampton, talks about the 2019 increase in the Massachusetts minimum wage on Friday, Dec. 28, 2018. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Published: 1/4/2019 8:33:20 AM

Activists have been fighting for years to create policy that will guarantee that the legal minimum wage is one that will support the workers who earn it. During the 2016 presidential campaign, the “Fight for 15” — an effort to make the minimum wage $15 an hour — stepped into the national spotlight.

And now thanks to the diligent efforts of the collective of advocacy organizations that make up Raise Up Massachusetts, negotiators in the state Legislature, and a willing governor, Massachusetts has taken its first decisive step to achieving that wage for residents in this state.

As of Jan. 1, 2019, Massachusetts has a minimum wage of $12, tied with the state of Washington for the highest of any state in the country. (California’s minimum wage is $12 for companies with greater than 25 employees, but $11 for those with fewer.) Only some cities — Washington, D.C., Seattle, New York and several municipalities in California — have minimum wages that are higher. From here, the minimum wage increases by 75 cents each year until 2023, when minimum wage will be $15 per hour.

That’s a real achievement. And it will be an immediate boost to those who until recently made less than the new minimum wage, including Jarred Powers working at State Street Fruit Store and Ana Steb at Shelburne Falls Coffee Roasters, both of whom were quoted in a recent Gazette article on the wage hike, calling it “helpful” and “exciting.”

Some small business owners, likewise, are looking forward to the change, even though it will affect their bottom line. Melissa Lewis-Gentry, business manager of the former Modern Myths Comic Books, told reporter Greta Jochem the minimum wage increase was one of the factors that led to the business’s closure in 2018. Nevertheless, she supports the wage increases, even if some small businesses are negatively impacted.

“I’m a firm believer, if a business cannot afford to pay its workers, that business has no business in existing,” she said.

Some business owners have already made the leap to a $15 minimum wage, including Peter Simpson of Haymarket Cafe and Tim Fisk of Salon Herdis. “Everybody deserves a living wage,” Fisk said.

Signed by Gov. Charlie Baker in June, the so-called “Grand Bargain” law established the new minimum wage and also creates a paid family and medical leave program beginning in 2021. Through the program, workers can take 20 weeks of paid personal medical leave, 12 weeks of parental leave and 12 weeks of leave to help a sick family member.

The legislation also increases base wages for tipped workers from $3.75 to $4.35 in 2019, an incremental step to reaching $6.75 by 2023; creates a holiday sales tax weekend every August; and phases out mandated time-and-a-half pay for Sundays that applies to some businesses.

It is called a “Grand Bargain” because no side got exactly what it wanted. Opposed by the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the minimum wage increase was looped in with other proposals, including a dip in the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent, proposed by the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. Passage of the sales tax measure could have been devastating to the state budget, which is already inadequate to fund education and infrastructure measures — especially considering that an effort to raise the income tax on the highest-earning Massachusetts residents was stripped from the ballot by the Supreme Judicial Court.

In the end, all sides walked away relatively satisfied. There will be no sales tax reduction, but there is now a mandated sales tax holiday. The minimum wage will reach $15, but in 2023 rather than in 2022 as originally proposed. Time-and-a-half pay is disappearing on Sundays. There will also not be a lower minimum wage for teen workers, as was proposed, a measure that would be detrimental to families that depend on teen workers.

This minimum wage increase is an important milestone for our state, and an example of a legislative body rolling up its sleeves and doing the work to make things better for the people it serves — something that has been sorely missing at the federal level. It’s an excellent way to start the new year, and we hope for more bold initiatives out of the state Legislature as 2019 continues.




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