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Coalition Will Drop $15 Minimum Wage Ballot Question If Gov. Baker Signs 'Grand Bargain'

The Massachusetts State House. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The Massachusetts State House. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
This article is more than 4 years old.

The coalition of more than 100 labor, community and faith-based groups behind a proposed ballot question to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour has agreed to drop that question from the ballot — if Gov. Charlie Baker signs a compromise bill that would accomplish the same goal.

The Raise Up coalition announced that its grassroots committee voted Tuesday to not pursue the wage floor increase on the November ballot as long as Baker signs the "grand bargain" bill the Legislature passed last week.

The bill lawmakers hustled to the governor's desk on Wednesday would raise the minimum wage to $15 and increase the wage for tipped workers to $6.75 over five years. The bill also phases out extra pay for workers who clock in on Sundays and holidays, develops a program for paid family and medical leave, and mandates an annual summer sales tax-free weekend.

"Because of the incredible work of dozens of grassroots organizations and thousands of volunteers who collected signatures to qualify our questions for the ballot, Massachusetts workers will have a $15 minimum wage and the strongest, most progressive paid family and medical leave program in the nation," Raise Up said in a statement Tuesday. "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."

The compromise legislation was the result of months of negotiations forced by ballot activists. The Raise Up coalition voted last week to drop its paid family and medical leave ballot proposal, but waited until Tuesday to make a determination about its minimum wage question.

In agreeing to the so-called grand bargain, the coalition would pass on bringing its version of the minimum wage increase bill to the voters. Had the question gone to the ballot and won, Raise Up could have celebrated securing a hike to $15 per hour in four years rather than five and would have ensured that the minimum wage was annually indexed to inflation.

But at risk was a possible $1.2 billion hit to state tax revenue if retailers had taken their sales tax rate cut question to the ballot. After scoring a series of concessions in the grand bargain, the retailers agreed to drop the proposed sales tax ballot question.

If all three ballot questions are dropped, that would leave voters in November to decide questions imposing nurse staffing mandates at hospitals and rolling back the state's new law aimed at preventing discrimination against transgender individuals in public accommodations.

The governor had prodded legislative leaders to find a way to address the issues raised by a series of ballot initiatives, all which he was careful not to take a firm stance on. Though he's thanked lawmakers for reaching a negotiated compromise, Baker has not said whether he plans to sign the bill or return it with a veto.

"We recognize that this thing is currently sitting on our desk. The clock is ticking," Baker said Tuesday. His deadline to sign or veto the bill is Sunday. "By the end of this week really need to make a decision here, but we do want to create some clarity around the technical questions we have, which we're working on right now."

Asked about the bill Monday, Baker did not raise any objections and said he had only technical questions for the lawmakers who passed it. He cited a need to "respect" the agreement that was reached.

"I mean, a bargain is a bargain and I think for us, the work that was done by the Legislature on this was based on a series of conversations that took place over almost six months between people on all sides of those three questions, and I think we need to respect that," he said.

Raise Up has established itself as a force on Beacon Hill, having successfully fought for the last minimum wage increase, an earned sick time law and now having likely secured another minimum wage increase and the establishment of a paid leave program.

Raise Up estimates that the "grand bargain" minimum wage increase would boost wages for almost 1 million Massachusetts workers, more than a quarter of the state's workforce. The group said 90 percent of the affected workers are older than 20, 56 percent are women, and 55 percent work full time.

"Since Raise Up Massachusetts came together in 2013, we have nearly doubled wages for hundreds of thousands of working people, won best-in-the-nation benefits for workers and their families, and started to build an economy that works for all of us, not just those at the top," the group said in its statement.

Though it has essentially agreed to the "grand bargain," Raise Up said it is "profoundly disappointed" that the deal phases out premium pay on Sundays and holidays and what it calls an "inadequate increase" in the wage floor for tipped workers.

The coalition, which was also behind the proposed income surtax that was rejected by the Supreme Judicial Court, pledged to continue to fight on behalf of workers "who were left behind by the Legislature in this bill," possibly hinting at its next effort.

"We will continue to do this work until every worker in Massachusetts has a livable wage, family-supporting benefits, and a transportation and education system that lifts people up, funded by the wealthy paying their fair share," the group said. "We are only getting started."



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