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'Grand Bargain' Reached on Paid Leave, Minimum Wage, Sales Tax

Posted by John Regan on Jun 20, 2018 11:18:45 AM

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. 

StateHouse-resized-600The 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.

Topics: Mandated Paid Leave, Minimum Wage, tax

Why We're Negotiating over Ballot Questions

Posted by Rick Lord on Jun 12, 2018 3:21:21 PM

Associated Industries of Massachusetts has been negotiating for more than six months to reach reasonable compromises on three potential ballot questions that collectively could wreak havoc on the Massachusetts economy.

Lord.SpeakingI write today to report on where we stand in those negotiations and how the outcome may affect your company and the 4,000 other employers who make up the largest employer association in the commonwealth.

The proposed ballot questions put forward by a coalition of unions and progressive groups would ask voters in November to:

  • mandate paid family and medical leave for Massachusetts employees;
  • increase the state minimum wage to $15 per hour; and
  • reduce the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent.

A fourth question, a constitutional amendment that would impose a 4 percentage-point surtax on incomes of more than $1 million, has been challenged by myself and four other prominent business leaders in the courts. The Massachusetts Department of Revenue estimates that 80 percent of the returns that would be affected by the surtax include some amount of business income.

We engaged in these negotiations for several important reasons.

First, the AIM Board of Directors and the larger membership of the association believed it was in the best interests of employers to pursue a negotiated settlement that might moderate the radical nature of the three initiatives.

Second, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Harriett Chandler asked AIM, other business groups and sponsors of the three initiatives in early April to expand the discussions and work toward a “grand bargain” that would allow the Legislature to resolve all the issues before they reached the ballot. AIM agrees with the legislative leaders that initiative petitions represent an inefficient method of addressing public policy decisions that should be left to elected lawmakers.

There is, finally, the sobering reality that the questions enjoy overwhelming support in early voter polls, not surprising given proposals that appear 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.

Our objectives for the negotiations have been clear:

  • Encourage a legislative compromise that is balanced and fair, and that protects a strong Massachusetts economy.
  • Adopt a compromise that protects jobs by keeping Massachusetts a competitive place to do business for employers.
  • Create programs that are accountable, have strong controls, and allow employers the flexibility to offer benefits that will attract and retain their employees.

Any compromise on the three issues will have to be wrapped up before ballots go to print in early July. And to make matters even more confusing, conclusion of a “grand bargain” is inextricably tied to an imminent decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on the graduated income tax proposal.

AIM has said virtually nothing publicly about the ongoing negotiations because participants agreed at the outset to maintain the confidentiality of the discussions. The idea was that it would be harder to reach common ground if everyone litigated the issues in the news media. We have honored our confidentiality promise, and, even now, cannot disclose all the details of the negotiations until a deal is in place.

Here is what we can tell you.

Negotiations on the paid family and medical leave question began in November and significant progress has been made toward compromise. The talks have been intense but respectful on a complex and multi-faceted proposal that could add more than $1 billion in benefit costs to employers and workers if passed in November.

Challenging issues remain and anyone involved in negotiations knows that the final compromises are always the most difficult. But it’s fair to say that we are confident about reaching an agreement on a paid leave plan that will be far less economically punitive than the one set out in the ballot question.

That question would allow covered workers to take up to 16 weeks of family leave or 26 weeks of medical leave. Workers could take family leave to care for a child after the child’s birth, adoption, or placement in foster care; to care for a seriously ill family member; or to address needs arising from a family member’s active duty military service.

The prospects for agreement on minimum wage and the sale-tax decrease are more uncertain.

Raise Up Massachusetts, the coalition behind the minimum wage, paid leave and the income surtax, sent a letter last week to DeLeo and Chandler indicating that the talks had reached a “standstill” over proposals from the Retailers Association of Massachusetts to eliminate time-and-a-half for Sunday retail work and creation of a minimum wage for teen-aged workers.

Progressive groups have since stepped up their public campaign with a massive lobbying effort on Beacon Hill and a separate protest for the $15 per hour minimum wage that tied up traffic for hours on Monday in Boston’s financial district.

Jon Hurst, President of the retailer’s organization that is sponsoring the proposal to reduce the sales tax, said last week that business groups remain committed to finding a solution on all issues.

“Although our ballot proposal has the support of almost 70 percent of voters in a recent public poll, we remain committed to working with legislators, other employer organizations, and other negotiators to see if a legislative solution can be reached,” Hurst said.

AIM members need to understand that we will be satisfied but far from happy if we reach a grand bargain. None of the potential agreements on paid leave, minimum wage or sales tax will be the ones employers would have designed. We may be able to improve some potentially catastrophic ballot initiatives, but employers will still ultimately face the unsavory trifecta of mandated paid leave, an accelerating minimum wage and possibly an income tax surcharge.

The long-term lesson may be a fundamental change in the way employers approach ballot questions. Stay tuned.

Please contact John Regan, Executive Vice President, Government Affairs, at jregan@aimnet.org for updates on these issues.

Topics: Mandated Paid Leave, Minimum Wage, Massachusetts Legislature

$15 Minimum Wage, Paid Family Leave Approved for Ballot

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Sep 6, 2017 2:46:50 PM

Attorney General Maura Healey today certified proposals for mandated paid family leave and a $15 per-hour minimum wage for inclusion on the 2018 statewide ballot questions.

Votingsmall.jpgThe two initiative petitions were among 21 potential ballot questions certified by the attorney general. Also approved were petitions to reduce the sales tax and re-establish an annual sales-tax holiday. Of concern to the business community were petitions to raise the annual percentage of renewable energy use in Massachusetts and mandate nurse-staffing ratios by statute.

The decisions mean that the 2018 ballot may contain three major proposals of concern to business – the paid leave and minimum wage petitions, and a constitutional amendment that would establish a 4 percent surtax on incomes of more than $1 million.

“The employers of Associated Industries of Massachusetts are deeply disappointed with the decision to certify the paid-leave and minimum-wage increase questions. The paid-leave petition would create a new $1.3 billion benefit program that could increase by 40 percent every year,” said John Regan, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs at Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

“Employers will review the attorney general’s certification before deciding on the next step.”

The paid-leave proposal would allow covered workers to take up to 16 weeks of family leave or 26 weeks of medical leave. Workers could take family leave to care for a child after the child’s birth, adoption, or placement in foster care; to care for a seriously ill family member; or to address needs arising from a family member’s active duty military service.

Workers taking family or medical leave would receive 90 percent of their average weekly earnings, up to $1,000 per week. Beginning January 1, 2021, the weekly cap on benefits could be adjusted annually based on the Consumer Price Index published by the United States Department of Labor for the Boston metropolitan area.

The proposed law would create a trust fund into which employers would pay 0.63 percent of each employee’s annual wages, up to half of which could be deducted from employee wages. Beginning October 1, 2021, the contribution rate would be reviewed and adjusted annually to ensure funding of at least 140 percent of the amounts paid out during the previous year.

AIM estimates that the likely cost per week per employee to fund the program will exceed $520 per employee yearly, more than the average $508 per employee that companies now pay for the $1.3 billion Massachusetts Unemployment Insurance program.

The minimum wage proposal would boost the commonwealth’s base wage from the current $11 per hour to $12 in 2019; $13 in 2020; $14 in 2021; and $15 in 2022. The proposed law would also raise the minimum cash wage that must be paid to tipped employees, which was $3.75 per hour as of January 1, 2017, to $5.05 in 2019; $6.35 in 2020; $7.64 in 2021; and $9 in 2022.

Topics: Mandated Paid Leave, Minimum Wage, Massachusetts economy, Paid Family Leave

Infographic: Paid Leave Law Raises Benefit Costs by 87 Percent in California

Posted by Brad MacDougall on Jun 26, 2017 8:30:00 AM

The Massachusetts Legislature is considering a paid leave bill that would establish the right of employees to receive job-protected paid family and paid medical leave.  Benefits would include up to 16 weeks of paid family leave, and 26 weeks of paid medical leave.  Weekly benefits would begin at 50 percent of the employee’s weekly wage and capped at $1,000 per week.

But benefit costs would accelerate quickly if the bill becomes law. The 50 percent salary replacement level required at implementation in January 2019 would increase to 90 percent by January of 2021.

How fast will costs increase? Consider the following information about California's decade-old paid family leave law:

Paid Leave.jpg

 State of California
Labor and Workforce Development Agency

Register for the Paid Leave Webinar

 

Topics: Paid Family Leave, Employment Law, Mandated Paid Leave

Paid Leave Proposals Not Reasonable or Manageable

Posted by John Regan on Jun 13, 2017 1:00:00 PM

Editor’s Note: The following testimony opposing paid leave was delivered to the State House by AIM today. The testimony was provided to the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development regarding HB 2172 and SB 1048.

My name is John R. Regan, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs for Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM.); the state’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan association of Massachusetts’ employers.

StateHouse-resized-600.pngWith thousands of members employing nearly one out of every five workers in Massachusetts, AIM’s mission is to promote the well-being of its members and the prosperity of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts by improving the economic climate, proactively advocating fair and equitable public policy, and providing relevant, reliable information and excellent services.

Thank you for the opportunity to present our testimony today.

We respectfully ask that HB 2172, SB 1048, and any similar bills receive adverse reports from this Committee.

We agree with the proponents of these bills that Massachusetts’ citizens need to balance the needs of work and family. In fact, according to the 2016 AIM Benefit Survey, 87% of responding companies offer short-term disability to their employees with benefits ranging from 51 to 70% salary replacement; 79% offer long-term disability insurance and 59% have a leave of absence policy, all in addition to the leave benefits under FMLA.

However, we do not agree, and do not believe, that the legislation before you is a reasonable, manageable, or affordable approach to address those needs, either from an employee or employer perspective.

Last session, we asked a series of questions that we would like to ask this Committee again.

We strongly believe that the Committee should have answers to each of these questions before any bill can be reasonably released from your consideration. (For this portion of our testimony, we will be using section references to the language of Senate 1048. Similar language and concepts are found in the House bill as well.)

  • Section 2, of the proposed new Chapter 175M, creates a new office within the Executive Office of Labor will be created to administer the new leave program for the Commonwealth; does the Committee know the costs associated with this new office?1
  • Sections 3 & 4 creates the benefit durations and levels of wage replacement for the leave program; does the Committee know what the estimated take-up rate is for individuals taking both the maternity leave and disability leave? For cost estimating purposes, take-up rates per program are critical to know.
  • Further, what is the Committee’s estimate of the total program costs incurred by employers and the Commonwealth for administering this program and providing these new benefits?2
  • In Section 8, the director of the fund is charged with “assessing” the tax to fund this new program. Is this Committee aware of any precedent for the creation of this type program as well as the power to set and raise revenue by a non-elected individual? Are we sure that this is constitutional?
  • The director will become responsible for numerous operational duties in managing the funds related to this bill. Is there a cost estimate for this function?
  • In addition, has anyone determined what the tax assessment per employee might be for this program and, if so, could we see that analysis?3
  • Lastly, the bill requires that claims for family and medical leave benefits shall be filed with the department and handled under the procedures prescribed in sections 1, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, and 16 of chapter 30A. Is there an estimate of the number of claims to be adjudicated and the costs for that process?4

The terms of this legislation are far-reaching. Although the initial implementation in January of 2019 would require 50% salary replacement levels, that level is increased to 90% by January of 2021 and the average weekly wage is then tied to the Consumer Price Index for the Boston-Cambridge-Quincy consolidated metropolitan statistical area. Not only is this an extraordinarily high rate of compensation, but it also derives the wage rate from on the area of the Commonwealth with the most expensive cost of living. This will not accurately reflect the economic complexity of different areas in Massachusetts, placing an undue burden on employers and employees living in less costly areas.

Of late, many have wondered why with a recovered economy and lower unemployment rates Massachusetts own-source revenue continues to fall below even relatively conservative benchmark levels. One reason cited by our members is lack of wage growth.

According to the Pew Charitable Trust, personal income growth in Massachusetts has only grown by 2.0% since Q4 of 2007.5 Employers in the Commonwealth are faced with considerable non-wage job costs for health care, unemployment insurance, workers compensation insurance, and other Massachusetts-only high costs, like electricity rates. Combine these with higher than average base wage costs, and you restrict employers’ ability to raise wages in a manner similar to other post-recessionary recovery periods.

Inevitably and necessarily, this lack of wage growth affects tax revenue growth for Massachusetts.

A new, and expensive paid family and medical leave program, as envisioned by these bills, will contribute to a diminished pool from which to fund additional jobs and additional wage growth.

Register for the Paid Leave Webinar

Topics: Employment Law, Mandated Paid Leave, Paid Family Leave

Employers Face Flood of Ballot Questions

Posted by Brad MacDougall on Aug 10, 2015 9:59:51 AM

Massachusetts employers face a potential flood of statewide ballot initiatives in the next several years that could fundamentally alter the role of government in regulating private enterprise.

VoteHereSignTwenty four groups filed 35 initiative petitions with the attorney general’s office last Wednesday for proposed laws or constitutional amendments to go before voters in 2016 or 2018. The proposals range from mandating paid maternity leave to expanding dysfunctional renewable-energy targets to levying financial penalties for retail stores or fast-food restaurants that change an employee’s schedule within 14 days of a shift.

A proposed constitutional amendment that would impose a 4 percent surtax on income more than $1 million could reach the ballot by 2018. The change would boost the overall tax rate by 80 percent on any income more than $1 million, which could have devastating consequences for the large number of Massachusetts businesses organized as subchapter S corporations or limited liability corporations.

The Wednesday filing deadline started a long process by which initiative petitions qualify for inclusion on the statewide election ballot. The attorney general will initially review the petitions to determine whether they meet constitutional requirements. Decisions on certifications will be released on Sept. 2.

The number and variety of potential questions impacting employers would be unprecedented if even a portion of the proposed laws and amendments make it to the ballot.

Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) will participate in discussions with the attorney general as an opponent of the parental leave, surtax, scheduling and solar energy questions. The association’s Board of Directors will review the remaining employer-related questions shortly and determine the positions that AIM will take.

AIM opposes ballot questions generally as an inefficient and clumsy method of resolving complex economic policy decisions.

Progressive groups, emboldened by their success in securing approval for paid sick time last November, are increasingly taking workplace social policy issues directly to voters.

“These initiatives, taken together, represent a broad assault on the ability of employers to create jobs and economic opportunity here in Massachusetts. It appears that social causes now trump economic policy,” said John Regan, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs at AIM.

The parental leave question would require employers to pay women who take leave to give birth or to adopt a child for at least two weeks of that leave. The law would require notice to be posted in any workplace in which females are employed.

One of the renewable energy questions would require that Massachusetts meet all of its electricity needs with renewable power by 2050. The second would increase subsidies to developers of solar power.

Here are all the proposed employer-related ballot questions that have been filed, with links to the text:

15-03 Constitutional Amendment Corporations Are Not People and May Be Regulated.  Money is Not Free Speech and May Be Regulated.

15-04 Constitutional Amendment Corporations Are Not People and May be Regulated.  The General Court May Limit Political Spending and Contributions.

15-06 Paid Parental Leave (AIM opposes)  

15-12 Initiative Petition for a Law Relative to Ending Common Core Education Standards.

15-17 An Initiative Petition for an Amendment to the Constitution of the Commonwealth to Provide Resources for Education and Transportation through an additional tax on incomes in excess of One Million Dollars.

15-18 Initiative Petition for a Law Relative to Renewable Energy.

15-19 Massachusetts Fair Health Care Pricing Act.

15-20 Massachusetts Equitable Health Care Pricing Act.

15-26 Initiative Petition for a Law Relative to Solar and Renewable Energy.

15-31 An Act to Allow Fair Access to Public Charter Schools.

15-35 An Initiative Petition for a Law Relating to Fairer Scheduling for Workers

A list of all 36 petitions may be found on the attorney general’s Web site.

 

Topics: Energy, Ballot Questions, Mandated Paid Leave

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