The Massachusetts Legislature will today consider a sweeping compromise between the business community and progressive groups on the issues of paid family and medical leave, minimum wage and a reduction of the state sales tax.
The so-called “grand bargain” follows months of negotiations among employers, labor unions, community groups and legislators seeking to eliminate three potential November ballot questions – one asking voters to approve paid leave, a second to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour and a third to reduce the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent.
Debate on the compromise comes two days after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court disallowed a proposed constitutional amendment that would have imposed a surtax on incomes of more than $1 million and earmarked the money for transportation and education.
“AIM has worked diligently under difficult circumstances to get the best deal possible for Massachusetts employers on all three issues,” said Richard C. Lord, President and Chief Executive Officer of AIM. “We commend the representatives of the Raise Up Coalition, other business groups, and the members of the General Court for working long and hard to reach an agreement.”
“While everyone gives something during a negotiation, we are satisfied and believe that our member employers are better off with a legislative compromise than with voter approval of the language of the ballot questions as drafted.”
The compromise will phase in mandated paid family and medical leave over three years for all Massachusetts employers. AIM and other business groups negotiated reductions in the duration of family leave from 16 weeks in the proposed ballot question to 12 weeks, and of personal medical leave from 26 weeks to 20 weeks.
The cost of the program may be split between employers and workers, though the sharing arrangements are different based upon the type of leave and the size of a company.
More importantly, the compromise includes an opt-out provision for employers with programs that offer benefits greater than or equal to what an employee would receive in the state program.
Workers on paid leave will earn 80 percent of their wages up to 50 percent of the state average weekly wage, then 50 percent of wages above that amount, up to an $850 cap.
The compromise envisions that the Retailers Association of Massachusetts will drop its proposed ballot question on reducing the sales tax. In return, the compromise will phase out the requirement that retail workers earn time-and-a half for working on Sundays; create a permanent, two-day sales tax holiday; and will not include an automatic indexing provision of the minimum wage, currently $11 per hour and increasing to $15 per hour over five years.
The negotiations were carried out against the backdrop of polls indicating overwhelming support for all three ballot questions, not surprising given that the proposals appeared to offer something for nothing. Recent polls put support for the paid family and medical leave question at 82 percent and support for a $15 minimum wage at 78 percent.
Experts believe that a campaign to defeat questions with those sorts of poll numbers could cost $10 million per initiative. The ballot process is one-sided, winner-take-all. Coming to a legislative compromise avoids that by allowing a broader group of people to have input into key decisions to create policies that work for everyone.
AIM’s objectives for the negotiations were clear:
- Encourage a legislative compromise that is balanced and fair, and that protects a strong Massachusetts economy.
- Create programs that are accountable, have strong controls, and allow employers the flexibility to offer benefits that will attract and retain their employees.