Business & Tech

Negotiations on $15 minimum wage, other proposals, stall

Boston, MA - 05/08/18 - Hundreds rallied inside the State House for paid leave and a $15 minimum wage. The Raise Up Massachusetts coalition rally featured speakers and a march inside the building that passed by Speaker DeLeo's office. (Lane Turner/Globe Staff) Reporter: (in caps) Topic: (09rally)
Lane Turner/Globe Staff
Hundreds rallied inside the State House for paid leave and a $15 minimum wage in May.

Attempts to reach a compromise that would allow the Legislature to preempt a potential ballot question raising the state minimum wage have reached a stalemate, according to the coalition pushing for the wage increase.

If an agreement can’t be reached on the minimum wage issue — which is tied to complicated negotiations over paid family and medical leave and a sales tax cut — all three issues could go before voters in the fall.

Raise Up Massachusetts, the coalition of community, union, and religious organizations pushing for a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave, sent a letter to Senate President Harriette Chandler and House Speaker Robert DeLeo Thursday accusing the Retailers Association of Massachusetts of insisting on “anti-worker changes” to the minimum wage bill that would harm workers and vulnerable families.

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The Retailers Association, which has proposed a sales tax cut from 6.25 percent to 5 percent, with an annual sales tax holiday, wants a lower minimum wage for teens or the elimination of time-and-a-half pay on Sundays, according to the letter.

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Raise Up said it will not accept this compromise, stating that the Retailers Association is using the sales tax cut “as a threat to gain concessions on regressive policies that would never pass in the Legislature, or on the ballot, on their own.”

Raise Up is opposed to the sales tax cut, saying it would cut $1.25 billion a year from state revenues.

“That’s more than we provide to our local cities and towns in state aid,” said Raise Up spokesman Steve Crawford. “It's more than we provide in state aid to higher education. It’s a reckless proposal and one that has been rejected by voters in the past.”

In 2010, Massachusetts voters rejected a ballot question that would have cut the state sales tax rate by more than half, to 3 percent.

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The Retailers Association has said repeatedly that upping the minimum wage from $11 to $15 an hour and from $3.75 to $9 for tipped workers by 2022, plus requiring employers to give their workers paid family and medical leave, would hurt employers already buffeted by strict labor laws in the state.

“The Retailers Association of Massachusetts remains focused on supporting our small retail businesses, as well as seniors and low-income families, by seeking a reduction in the highly regressive sales tax and the establishment of a permanent sales tax holiday,” president Jon Hurst, said in a statement.

“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. With 3½ weeks of negotiating time to go, we remain focused on reaching a compromise that is fair to all parties and will provide much needed support to our Main Streets, our small businesses, and our economy,” the statement continued.

Negotations between Raise Up and business organizations have been ongoing for months, and Raise Up said they were close to reaching an agreement on paid family and medical leave. But if it can’t reach an agreement with the Retailers Association on all three questions, and if the Legislature doesn’t pass paid leave and the $15 minimum wage with Sunday overtime and teen wages intact, the coalition said it will continue to gather signatures to go to the ballot with its two questions.

To qualify for the November ballot, groups with proposed questions have to collect a second round of 10,792 certified signatures by July 3.

Katie Johnston can be reached at katie.johnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.