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Minimum wage hike, paid sick time take effect in Mass.

Activist groups lobbied lawmakers to secure changes

Morgan C. Mullings
Staff reporter covering state and local politics. Report for America Corps Member. VIEW BIO
Minimum wage hike, paid sick time take effect in Mass.
A paid sick leave law approved by the Legislature last year takes affect this year. BANNER FILE PHOTO

Massachusetts workers began the new year with extended family leave benefits and an increase in minimum wage.

State law enacted in 2018 started Massachusetts’ gradual minimum wage increase from $11 an hour to $15 an hour over five years. Starting Jan. 1, 2021, minimum wage is set at $13.50 an hour. The change also includes tipped employees, who can be paid a minimum of $5.55 only if their tips bring them up to the state’s $13.50, with the employer making up the difference in cases where tips are low.

Thousands of workers receiving a raise in the new year. In 2017 and 2018, community organizations mobilized to get the law passed.

The new paid family and medical leave program is available as of Jan. 1, and employees of firms with 50 or more employees can apply through the site now for several life events: Medical leave to attend to one’s own serious illness, family leave to manage family affairs while a family member is on active duty overseas, family leave to care for a family member who is a covered service member and family leave to bond with a newborn or newly adopted or fostered child.

Deb Fastino, executive director of the Coalition for Social Justice, helped spearheaded the campaign and lobbying of the legislation for support from other organizers and legislators. She s a co-chair of Raise Up Massachusetts, the coalition that took up the campaign and was instrumental in its passage.

“[It was] taken seriously in the Legislature, and leadership wanted us to sit down with the business community, who had issues with the idea of us going to the ballot on it,” Fastino said.

The Massachusetts Communities Action Network was also part of the campaign.

“Community, labor and religious groups collected 359,000 signatures from voters in 2017 and 2018, which catapulted a $15 minimum wage and paid leave to be passed by the Legislature,” Lew Finfer, co-director of Massachusetts Communities Action Network, said in a release.

The changes come at a pivotal time during the COVID-19 emergency, where some jobs don’t offer paid leave to care for a long-term illness. Effective July 1, 2021, workers will also be able to apply for leave to take care of any family member with a serious health condition.

Before this, some companies did not allow paid leave for parental bonding at all. Filipe Zamborlini, public policy director at the women’s shelter Rosie’s place, said in a press release that he plans to take advantage of this new law starting Jan. 4.

“Without the state’s paid family and medical leave program I would not be able to afford to take more than four weeks to bond with my daughter who was born in September. My job, and that of most people working in the social service sector, does not offer paid leave beyond disability for new parents,” Zamborlini said.

This new program applies to most employers, unless they have a private paid family leave plan that meets or exceeds the state’s paid family and medical leave. Some independent contractors and other professions are excluded as well.

“We know that this is long overdue,” Fastino said. “At some point, everyone is going to need this.”