Over the summer, we are highlighting aspects of our Shared Prosperity Agenda. Our members are sharing their experiences and expertise on Education, Healthcare, Housing, Jobs and Wages, and Progressive Revenue.
This week we are focusing on Jobs — Within five years, every job in Massachusetts should pay at least $15/hour, and everyone should have access to safe, affordable transportation; a good first step would be an increased minimum wage, indexed to inflation, and earned sick time.
To go deeper into these issues, see the three blog posts by our members below on Tipped Wages, Earned Sick Time Now, and Transportation Infrastructure Investment. Read them on our blog here.
Sign our petition for Jobs and Transportation here.
1. Let me give you a tip… Finally…
Matthew Szafranski, the author of this post, is the Editor-in-Chief of Western Mass Politics & Insight (WMassP&I), a Springfield-based political blog. Read more from WMassP&I here and contribute to the blog’s fundraising campaign to maintain its operations through this particularly busy political 2014 cycle in Western Massachusetts.
Come January, tipped employees in Massachusetts will receive their first raise in over 15 years. The increase will be meager $1.12. The full minimum wage will rise to $11 from $8. Still, this time, the most vulnerable workers affected by minimum wage laws are not completely forgotten thanks in part to the work of Raise Up Massachusetts and the Shared Prosperity Agenda of Progressive Massachusetts.
The tipped wage came about in the 1960’s when workers who receive tips food service workers, were finally covered by in the federal minimum wage at 50% of the full wage. While the percentage changed over the years, it was cut off entirely on the federal level in 1996, freezing the federal rate at $2.13.
Inexplicably, Massachusetts followed suit in 1998. Other states did not. Connecticut had, until recently kept its tipped wage pegged to the full wage, such that it is currently a comparably robust $5.69.
The Massachusetts Senate’s minimum wage law raised the tipped employee wage to 50% of the full minimum wage, a total of $5.50 when the full minimum wage matured to $11. Instead, the tipped wage will rise, over three years, to $3.75 from $2.63. It is unclear what the senate got out tossing the higher tipped increase (as well as minimum wage indexing) out the window. House leadership seemed dead set against an increase higher than $3.75, such that they shut down Reps’ efforts to raise the wage. While still too low, the increase arrests decades of widening disparity between the full and tipped wages.
“Tips make up the difference,” restaurateurs argued. One Republicans member of the senate laughably said that a higher tipped wage was unjustified because, as the o-owner of a diner, waitresses were making more than he was. Even if true, beachside breakfast nooks are quite unlike chain empires.
At these large establishments, tips might make up for it…or not. The party that leaves five bucks on a $100 check certainly does not. Perfect service does not guarantee great tips. But, even as those chains will get paid for what they sell, tipped employees may have to fork over a set amount of money to other employees, regardless of what the server actually earned.
Anybody can sympathize with the struggling independent restaurant owner. However, it is the big guys who hide behind the little guys to avoid paying employees fairer wages. The Massachusetts Restaurant Association and its Big Brother the NRA (not the gun one) swoon over the thought of paying their tipped workers one cent more. It will bankrupt the small business owner!
That is probably not true. More importantly, tipped workers endure incredible demands. A sampling include no consistent income; forced sharing of tips (which is legally distinct from the illegal practice of tipped pooling); demands from guests and management; physical exertion; constant pressure to sell and more. The slightest wail from a guest can land a server in trouble or the unemployment line…if the boss does not try to disqualify him/her. Never mind that tipped workers are at huge risk for wage theft.
Meanwhile, tipped workers are not simply college students. Students constitute a huge share, but the stage a person is at in life should not be grounds for a lower wage. Secondly many of those college kids continue in their positions beyond graduation as they struggle to start long-term careers. Finally, many, many tipped workers, particularly outside the orbit of the sizzling Boston-Cambridge economy are not just starting out. Life happens and suddenly folks, well into their 50’s are raising a family, supplementing another job or the income of a spouse/partner or just struggling to pay their own expenses.
Massachusetts, despite its draconian tip wage, actually does better than some states. Employers cannot deduct the credit card service charge off of tips. Tip sharing is restricted to “service employees.” There is far more to be said about this issue and perhaps, around January, it may be time agitate for a prompter or higher increase. For the moment, this increase was a long time coming…and it is an improvement. When not abused the tipped wage can work out for all parties, but there is still much room for progress.
2. Earned Sick Time Now!
Stacie Shapiro is an activist in Needham. This letter to the editor was published in the Needham Times on July 24, 2014.
Today, nearly one million employees working in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts receive no paid sick time from their employers. Since taking time off to see a doctor or staying home to recover from an illness will result in a loss of pay, for many of these employees, taking time off is simply not an option they can afford.
This November, thanks to a coalition led by Raise Up Massachusetts, there will be a question on the ballot that [question 4], if passed, will ensure that workers across the Commonwealth will have the right to earn a limited number of paid sick days per year.
Aside from the obvious benefit this legislation provides for workers, businesses will benefit as well by having a healthier workforce.
Employees who come to work sick are often less productive, and they expose other employees to illnesses which can affect future productivity.
This is also good from a public health perspective. When people go to work sick, especially in service-related industries such as restaurants, they expose coworkers and customers. If they take public transportation, they expose other riders.
Providing workers with the option to care for themselves in the privacy and comfort of their own home is long overdue in Massachusetts. I hope you will support this important initiative by voting “yes” for earned sick time in November.
Join the Earned Sick Time campaign here, or go to a canvassing event in your area. If you don’t see an event in your area or would like to host your own, contact firstname.lastname@example.org 617-684-5609.
3. Transportation: A Smart Investment for Massachusetts
A good transportation system drives our economy. We need choices about how we get to work, school, and job training, and employers of all sizes need to be able to move people and goods efficiently and effectively.
Consider these facts: every $1 billion we invest in transportation infrastructure supports 36,000 jobs. And every $10 million we invest in public transportation generates $30 million in increased business sales.
I don’t know about your portfolio, but most investments I read about don’t have a 3:1 rate of return in job creation and economic development. But transportation does!
Last year, the legislature voted to increase investments in our entire transportation system with the passage of a transportation financing bill that raised the gas tax for the first time in 22 years. The legislation also indexed the gas tax to inflation, which ensures that we will able to keep pace with rising costs, and continue to get a good return on our transportation investment, with improved economic opportunities, more jobs, and safer roads and bridges.
But this November, Massachusetts voters will have to choose whether they want to support an improved economy and safer roads and bridges, or they want to let our state’s infrastructure slide into dangerous disrepair.
Question 1 on the ballot would repeal the law that allows the Commonwealth to index the gas tax to inflation, putting a billion dollars worth of repairs and investment at risk.
We have a long way to go to get the transportation system we want in Massachusetts. Consider these troubling facts:
- According to the Federal Highway Administration, more than half of all bridges in the state are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete – ranging us second-worst among the 50 states.
- The ten busiest structurally deficient bridges in the state carry more than one million cars every day.
- Roadway conditions are a significant factor in one-third of all traffic fatalities in Massachusetts, and motor vehicle crashes cost Massachusetts $6.3 billion a year in medical and other costs.
Simply put, we can’t afford not to invest in transportation.
Question 1 would jeopardize $1 billion in transportation investments, meaning that our roads and bridges will continue to deteriorate, and losing us millions of dollars in improved economic activity. We can’t afford to threaten the safety and security of Massachusetts drivers and transit riders and their families.
So this November, say NO to unsafe roads and bridges and vote NO on Question 1. Learn more about our work with the Committee for Safer Roads and Bridges here: www.saferoadsbridges.com and follow us on Twitter @VoteNoOnQ1
Sign our petition for Jobs and Transportation here.