BOSTON – State Senator Mike Barrett (D-Lexington) joined his Senate colleagues this week to pass bills raising the minimum wage, creating a paid leave program, banning the sale of ivory and rhino horn products, and putting an end to the practice known as wage theft.
A “grand bargain” bill — a product of months of deliberation between lawmakers, activists, and business groups — raises the minimum wage to $15 per hour, establishes a paid family and medical leave program, and creates a permanent sales tax holiday.
Under the bill, the hourly minimum wage will increase from $11 to $15 over a five-year period and the tipped minimum wage will go up from $3.75 to $6.75 an hour.
“The housing crunch is now nationwide” said Barrett. “Nowhere in the entire country can someone working a full-time minimum wage job afford a two-bedroom apartment. Raising the minimum wage in Massachusetts will help a lot of people make ends meet.”
The bill also creates a paid family and medical leave program, meaning that employees will be able to take time off to care for themselves or their loved ones without taking a pay cut or losing a job. Massachusetts is just the third state, along with New York and California, to approve a $15 minimum wage and a statewide paid leave program.
Retailers won a gradual end to time-and-a-half pay on Sundays and holidays as well as the establishment of an annual sales tax holiday.
Another bill passed in the Senate strengthens state-level protections against illegal ivory and rhino horn trading, aligning Massachusetts law with the federal law. The bill restricts the trade in most rhino horn and ivory products with exceptions for antiques legal under the federal ESA, musical instruments, inheritance, and sale or donation to scientific and educational institutions.
The Senate also took steps to help prevent the illegal practice of wage theft, a pervasive problem throughout the Massachusetts economy, with an estimated $700 million stolen from 350,000 employees each year. This practice can take many different forms, such as violating minimum wage laws, not paying overtime, forcing workers to work off the clock, misclassifying employees, or simply not paying workers at all.
To crack down on wage theft and increase accountability in labor contracting and subcontracting, the bill holds lead contractors liable for wages, as well as any penalties or fines, associated with wage theft violations. The bill also enhances the enforcement power of the Attorney General’s office by allowing it to bring wage theft cases to court and seek civil damages.
The various bills now move onto the next stage of the legislative process.