New year will usher in 2018’s ‘grand bargain’

 It’s been a tough year for low-wage workers, who were hit hard by the pandemic – losing jobs and income and facing housing and food insecurity.

But in Massachusetts, changes in state law that go into effect January 1 could bring at least slight relief. The minimum wage is set to rise next year, and the state’s paid family and medical leave program will go into effect as well.

However, the changes also come at a difficult time for businesses, which are reeling from forced shutdowns due to the pandemic and struggling to stay open.

Both these changes are part of a law passed in 2018, the so-called “grand bargain” aimed at keeping multiple questions off that year’s ballot.

The law will gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2023. This year’s increase will raise it from $12.75 to $13.50 an hour. The minimum wage for tipped workers – who are expected to supplement their income with tips – will rise from $4.95 to $5.55 an hour.

Premium pay given to employees who work on Sundays or most holidays will drop from 1.3 times the standard wage to 1.2 times.

According to the business group Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, 20 states will raise the minimum wage at the turn of the year. Of those, the only ones that will have higher minimum wages than Massachusetts next year will be California ($14/hour), parts of New York ($14 or $15, depending on the region) and the state of Washington ($13.69).

A broader change will be the implementation of paid family and medical leave. For the first time, all Massachusetts workers will be eligible to take up to 20 weeks of paid leave due to a serious injury or illness (26 weeks for members of the armed forces), and up to 12 weeks to bond with a new baby or care for an ill family member. The worker will be paid a percentage of their salary, up to $850 a week, and their job will be protected. Payroll taxes, which started being collected in October 2019, will pay for the new benefits.

The new benefits were pushed by a coalition of labor, clergy, and liberal organizing groups called Raise Up Massachusetts. Coalition members said the COVID-19 pandemic has made the benefits more important.

“While many white-collar workers have spent the pandemic sheltering in their home offices and seeing their savings accounts grow, hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers have spent the past nine months struggling to afford protective equipment, food, and rent while working on the frontlines to keep others safe,” said Lily Huang, co-director of Massachusetts Jobs with Justice, in a statement praising the minimum wage increase.

Deb Fastino, executive director of the Coalition for Social Justice, said paid leave will be vital for workers who cannot return to work because of long-haul COVID-19 symptoms.

However, the Retailers Association of Massachusetts notes that the minimum wage increase and the new leave program are coming at the same time as health insurance premiums are expected to rise by 7.9 percent. Unemployment insurance costs for businesses could also spike dramatically due to the huge benefits that were paid out this year.

A bill filed by Gov. Charlie Baker but not yet passed by the Legislature would reduce the unemployment benefit hit on businesses for the next two years. According to the Baker administration, the average per employee cost for businesses would rise from $539 this year to $635 next year under Baker’s proposed changes, rather than the $866 anticipated without any changes.

MassLive reported that some business owners are unhappy with the additional state-imposed costs on top of all the other COVID-19-related costs and revenue losses. Jeremiah Micka, the owner of the Union Station complex in Northampton, which includes three bars and a banquet facility, said the changes are coming at just the wrong time. “Right now we’re just trying to stay open,” Micka said.

SHIRA SCHOENBERG

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

House Speaker Robert DeLeo steps down today, handing off the job to Majority Leader Ron Mariano of Quincy, whose lone opponent, Rep. Russell Holmes of Boston, withdrew from consideration.

For DeLeo, slow, steady, and firm were the watchwords during his record-setting tenure as speaker.

Interviewed by Dr. Paul Hattis, Mass General’s Dr. Jarone Lee offers a physician’s review of the COVID-19 vaccine. He also reveals his identity was stolen by someone seeking unemployment benefits using his name. 

The Legislature’s abortion bill is set to become law, as the House overrides Gov. Charlie Baker’s veto and the Senate is expected to follow suit today. Three abortion opponents in the House chose not to vote on the override.

Opinion: Jonathan Cohn, co-chair of the issues committee of Progressive Massachusetts, says state residents should not expect change for the better under Rep. Ron Mariano of Quincy, who is set to become House speaker on Wednesday.

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

Joan Vennochi says progressive activists unhappy with the coming ascension of Ron Mariano to the Massachusetts House speaker’s post have themselves to blame because they worked two years ago to unseat Jamaica Plain rep Jeff Sanchez, who might have been able to compete with Mariano for the job. (Boston Globe

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

The city of Springfield creates a new committee to encourage community members to get the COVID-19 vaccine. (MassLive)

According to recently released documents, an employee of the Southborough Recreation Department used an agency credit card in 2019 to purchase personal items and lost her job as a result. (MetroWest Daily News)

A man armed with a knife was shot and killed by Brockton police who were responding to a domestic disturbance. (The Enterprise)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Massachusetts nursing home residents begin to get the COVID-19 vaccine. (Telegram & Gazette) CVS and Walgreens will begin administering the Pfizer vaccine in long-term care facilities. (MassLive)

Massachusetts will get $452.1 million to expand COVID-19 testing, tracing and mitigation and $88.9 million for vaccine distribution from the federal stimulus package. (GBH) As the demand for COVID-19 testing surges across the state, Weymouth will use federal funding to provide tests to employees and residents free of charge. (Patriot Ledger)

The DCU Center field hospital in Worcester has already treated 161 COVID-19 patients in 22 days – compared to 162 patients in the six weeks it was open this spring. (Telegram & Gazette) Cape hospitals see a significant jump of COVID-19 cases in the past week. (Cape Cod Times)

The FBI issues warnings about COVID-19 vaccine-related scams. (Eagle-Tribune)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The Democrat-controlled House votes to approve $2,000 stimulus payments to Americans rather than the $600 contained in a recently approved stimulus package. The issue split Republicans, with President Trump pushing the higher amount. (NPR)

US Rep. Jim McGovern said Trump’s decision to wait to sign the COVID-19 relief bill is emblematic of a president who puts himself above the American people. McGovern also says he supports sending Americans $2,000 stimulus checks. (Telegram & Gazette)

President-elect Biden says Trump appointees are obstructing transition activities related to national security. (Washington Post

The Springfield Republican analyzes what the national defense bill means for Massachusetts, including money for a major construction project at Chicopee’s Westover Air Reserve base and PFAS cleanup at air bases.

New York extends its eviction ban until May 1. (NPR) 

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Hunger aid organizations and volunteers struggle to keep up with demand. (Eagle-Tribune)

Gyms are unhappy with Gov. Charlie Baker’s latest COVID-19 restrictions that further restrict capacity. (Telegram & Gazette)

The state’s casinos are now operating under new capacity limits, but MGM Springfield said given recent attendance figures that shouldn’t make much difference. (MassLive)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The town of Hamilton becomes the first community in Massachusetts to require residents to compost. (The Salem News)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The state parole board will consider whether to commute the sentence of a former Marine who was subsequently convicted of first-degree murdder and who died in July. Granting the petition would allow Joe Labriola’s ashes to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, as he wished. (Boston Globe)  

The SJC upholds a three-year statute of limitations for MassHealth to seek reimbursement for paying a person’s medical bills after it learns that person – or in this case their estate – has additional assets. (Gloucester Daily Times)

MEDIA

The nonprofit news site VTDigger and for-profit Seven Days are upending the media landscape in Vermont, where they have become vital — and big — players in the face of continued contraction of traditional newspapers. (Boston Globe)  

Boston College historian Heather Cox Richardson has taken Substack by storm, becoming the breakout star of the newsletter platform with her thoughtful take on the day’s news. (New York Times

The New York Times does an amazing video reconstruction of the police shooting of Breonna Taylor. 

The New York Post, President Trump’s go-to outlet when others shunned his groundless charges of election fraud, declares enough is enough in a front-page editorial headlined, “Mr. President: Stop the insanity.” 

PASSINGS

Dr. H. Jack Geiger, who co-founded the nation’s first community health centers, including the Geiger-Gibson Community Health Center in Dorchester, which bears his name, died at age 95. (New York Times) Jim Hunt of the Mass. League of Community Health Centers recounted their history earlier this month on the Codcast

Former Celtics writer Gary Larrabee pays tribute to the late Celtics player and coach K.C. Jones. (Salem News