One of the Wealthiest States and One of the Most Unequal

The following is testimony submitted to the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development on Tuesday, June 18, 2019.

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Chairwoman Jehlen, Chairman Brodeur, and members of the Joint Labor and Workforce Development Committee: 

My name is Jonathan Cohn, and I am the chair of the Issues Committee of Progressive Massachusetts. Progressive Massachusetts is a statewide grassroots advocacy organization that fights for shared prosperity, racial and social justice, good government and strong democracy, and sustainable infrastructure and environmental protection. 

Central to our agenda of shared prosperity is good-paying jobs with fair working conditions. As such, Progressive Massachusetts would like to go on the record in support of H.1609/S.092 (An Act Updating Overtime Protections to Protect the Commonwealth’s Middle Class Workers) and H.1617/S.1082 (An Act Requiring One Fair Wage)

The US remains the only country in the industrialized world without a limit to the number of work-hours per week. One partial solution to this has been to guarantee workers time and ½ pay for overtime work. If they are forced to work more hours, they should be duly compensated. 

However, this rule has only applied to wage workers, leaving out the many salaried workers in the service industry who often have to work overtime. 

The Obama Administration had sought to change this, crafting federal regulations to allow some salaried workers to get over time. But Republican attorney generals around the country are trying to block this pending regulation in the courts, and the Trump administration is fighting to roll it back. 

However, as with many issues, Massachusetts can and should lead. H.1609/S.1092 would do this by updating the salary threshold below which executive,administrative, and professional employees, such as low-level managers at retail stores and fast food chains, are guaranteed overtime pay when they work long hours. Moreover, it would align Massachusetts’s overtime law more closely to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, removing  exemptions, such as those for restaurants, hotels, hospitals, and non-profit colleges that leave out too many. 

H.1609/S.1092 would phase in the threshold for time and ½ overtime pay to kick in to $64,000 over several years, updating it each year thereafter to reflect wage growth and keep it in line with twice the minimum wage. According to MIT, $64,000 aligns with a living wage for families consisting of one parent and one child or two parents (one working full-time and one working part-time) and one child--a sensible standard. [1]

However, the lack of overtime pay is not the only problem facing workers in the service industry. The tiered wage system in the restaurant industry, by which workers are reliant on tips for a full wage, exacerbates gender and racial inequities and leaves too many workers struggling to get by. 

The tipped minimum wage in Massachusetts stands at a mere $4.35. In 2023, when the recently passed minimum wage increase takes full effect, it will stand at only $6.75. This is not a living wage. 

Although employers are supposed to guarantee that workers get the full minimum wage with tips, this has never been common practice, and wage theft is rampant in the industry. The tiered wage system allows this to happen. 

Moreover, sexual harassment remains widespread in the restaurant industry. [2] As our country is slowly but surely starting to grapple with the problem of sexual harassment and sexual assault across industries, we must face up to the fact that unequal wage systems create the breeding ground for such inappropriate and predatory behaviors. 

Massachusetts is both one of the wealthiest and one of the most unequal states in this country. Reporting out H.1609/S.092 (An Act Updating Overtime Protections to Protect the Commonwealth’s Middle Class Workers) and H.1617/S.1082 (An Act Requiring One Fair Wage) favorably will take us one step further in ensuring that our Commonwealth’s prosperity is shared by all. 

 

Sincerely, 

Jonathan Cohn 

Chair, Issues Committee

Progressive Massachusetts 





[1] http://livingwage.mit.edu/states/25

[2] http://rocunited.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/TakeUsOffTheMenu_Report_2.pdf

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