On Wednesday, the Massachusetts legislature pushed a “grand bargain” bill through both of its chambers in an effort to keep three questions off the November ballot: In addition to a minimum wage hike, the bill includes provisions for paid family and medical leave, and for an annual sales tax holiday. It also aims to gradually eliminate time-and-a-half pay on Sundays for retail workers. Governor Charlie Baker has 10 days from the passage of the bill in the legislature to sign it into law.
This bill advances fair wages for some workers in Massachusetts, yet falls short of expected increases for tipped workers. While the regular minimum wage will increase from $11 to $15 over the next five years, the tipped minimum wage will increase from $3.75 to just $6.75 over that same period. That’s bad news for the state’s tipped restaurant workers, who supported a larger increase over a longer time frame.
Raise Up Massachusetts — a coalition of more than 250 faith groups, labor groups, and grassroots organizations across Massachusetts helping activists in the state fight for fair wages — pushed for a bill that would increase that tipped minimum wage over eight years, until it dovetailed with the full minimum wage in 2026.
Despite their efforts to move the needle on the regular minimum wage proving successful, Raise Up Massachusetts expressed disappointment that tipped workers would not be experiencing a similar bump in wages, saying in a statement that they “are troubled by the size of the increase in the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers, which doesn’t go as far as our proposed ballot question.”
A representative from the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Massachusetts expressed similar sentiments to Eater via email, again advocating for a standard minimum wage for tipped and non-tipped workers.
“After decades of putting up with legislated gender discrimination, increasing the tipped wage to only $6.75 in five years is unacceptable. As tipped workers, we are once again left behind and our rights to earn a stable, dependable income ignored.”
Bob Luz, the president and CEO of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association (MRA), wasn’t exactly happy with the bill’s passage, either. He thinks it will hurt restaurant owners and operators because increased labor budgets will result in increased menu prices, which will translate into increased cost for the dining public. He believes this will be bad for everybody, tipped employees included.
“For those restaurants that weather the storm, the loss of hours, and ultimately loss of income for the employee, and the increased costs to the dining public means everyone loses,” Luz told Eater via email. “We remain very concerned that as guests learn that servers and bartenders make a higher hourly wage, that tip income will decrease.”
Even if Governor Baker signs the bill into law, the coalition could still push for a ballot question to increase the tipped minimum wage because the bill the legislature passed doesn’t go as far as the proposed ballot question, a source close to the issue tells Eater.
In other labor news, the Senate voted unanimously Thursday to approve legislation aimed at combating wage theft, which they say is a $700 million a year problem in Massachusetts. (Wage theft is rampant in the restaurant industry.) The legislation has to pass through the House, which failed to take up a similar bill in 2016. If the House doesn’t act, the bill dies.