EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 26, 2014

Mass. House leaders press new minimum wage bill

STEVE LeBLANC
Associated Press

---- — BOSTON (AP) — Democratic leaders in the Massachusetts House say they’re moving forward with legislation designed to raise the minimum wage and overhaul the state’s unemployment insurance system.

Those efforts hit a snag last week after a dispute between House and Senate leaders on legislative process.

House Labor Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Conroy said Tuesday that the House is preparing a new bill that combines Democratic leadership proposals on the two issues with a separate bill designed to protect the overtime rights and other legal worker protections of nannies and other domestic employees.

That bill would create an educational reach program to make sure workers and their employers are aware of all their legal benefits including those concerning vacation time, sick time, and severance pay.

Conroy said the combined bill could be debated by the House as soon as next week.

The Senate has already passed separate minimum wage and unemployment insurance bills and sent both to the House.

The House had hoped to report out a single bill combining both Senate bills, but missed a key deadline. Conroy said the Senate refused to agree to the House’s request for an extension.

“The Senate has been the obfuscatory body, not us,” Conroy told reporters Tuesday as he announced the new bill. “The process issue should not get in the way of politics.”

The House had other options including taking up one the Senate bills and then substituting their own language and shipping it back. That would likely have led to a six-member House and Senate conference committee hammering out a single compromise version — the usual legislative process.

The new bill resets the process and will require the Senate to again debate the issues.

Conroy said he hopes a minimum wage bill can get to Gov. Deval Patrick before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

Senate President Therese Murray’s office did not have an immediate response to Conroy’s proposal.

Both Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, a fellow Democrat, have embraced an increase in the state’s $8 per hour minimum wage, although there are significant differences between the two proposals.

The Senate bill would raise the minimum wage to $11 per hour over three years and automatically index future increases to the rate of inflation — a key demand of labor unions pressing for the wage hike.

DeLeo said he wants a bill that would hike the minimum wage to an hourly rate of $10.50 by 2016, but would not include the automatic hike indexed to increases in the cost of living.

They also differ on how much to increase the minimum wage for tipped workers like waiters.

There is a third effort underway to raise the state’s minimum wage: a ballot question being pushed by the labor-backed group Raise Up Massachusetts.

The question, which would be placed on the November state ballot, would raise the minimum wage to $10.50 an hour over two years and index future increases to inflation.

The last minimum wage hike in Massachusetts was in 2008.

Labor activists and other supporters of a higher minimum wage are planning to rally at the Statehouse on Wednesday.

The call for a higher minimum wage has also won the endorsement of Massachusetts’ four Roman Catholic bishops, although they haven’t said how high it should be.