No Deal on Minimum Wage, Family Leave, Sales Tax On Beacon Hill

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By Matt Murphy

BOSTON — The coalition of labor, faith-based and community groups behind a push to raise the minimum wage say negotiations with the Legislature and retailers aimed at avoiding simultaneous ballot fights over wages and a proposed sales tax cut have reached a “standstill.”

The Raise Up Coalition posted a letter on its website on Thursday addressed to Massachusetts Senate President Harriette Chandler and Speaker Robert DeLeo accusing the Retailers Association of Massachusetts of insisting on “anti-worker changes” that are holding up any potential compromise.

The concessions sought by the retailers’ trade group, according to Raise Up, include a sub-minimum wage for teenagers and changes to the law requiring time-and-a-half pay on Sundays. The initiative petition advancing toward the ballot would raise the minimum wage from $11 to $15 in annual increments.

“Policies such as a sub-minimum wage for teens or the elimination of Sunday time-and-a-half pay would hurt some of our most vulnerable workers and their families, and we cannot support or accept them,” the coalition wrote.

Retailers have long argued that wage laws in Massachusetts, along with competition from online retailers, put them at a competitive disadvantage.

Raise Up Massachusetts has been engaged for months in talks with business leaders, lawmakers, and retailers in hopes of reaching a compromise that would allow three potential ballot questions to be resolved in the Legislature without going to the ballot in November.

Those three questions include proposals by Raise Up to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour and mandate paid family and medical leave for workers, and a Retailers Association of Massachusetts petition to lower the 6.25 percent state sales tax to 5 percent with an annual sales tax holiday.

Raise Up told Chandler and DeLeo in the letter that talks with Labor Committee Chairmen state Representative Paul Brodeur (D-Melrose) and state Senator Jason Lewis (D-Winchester), Associated Industries of Massachusetts, and other business groups over paid family leave have led to agreement on “most aspects” of a program that it thinks could pass the House and Senate.

“We are very close to resolving the remaining provisions,” the coalition wrote.

On the issue of the minimum wage and the sales tax, however, Raise Up said the retailers’ association is using the threat of a sales tax cut ballot questions to “gain concessions on regressive policies that would never pass the Legislature.”

“If we cannot reach agreement with the Retailers Association on all three ballot questions, we believe it is time for the Legislature to move forward and pass paid family and medical leave and a $15 minimum wage, with no teen sub-minimum wage or changes to Sunday time-and-a-half,” the group wrote. “We are continuing to gather the signatures needed to take both of our questions to the ballot and are fully prepared to win them there if necessary.”

All groups with proposed ballot questions have until July 3 to collect their second round of 10,792 signatures to qualify for the ballot, leaving just a few more weeks for the parties to reach a breakthrough before ballot questions could be locked in for November.