State Rep. Harold Naughton Jr. joined his colleagues in the Legislature to pass final legislation to increase the minimum wage to $11 per hour by 2017 and lower costs for businesses through an updated unemployment insurance rating table and multi-year rate freeze. Adjusting for inflation, the minimum wage in 1968 would be worth $10.72 today.
“After careful deliberation and thoughtful debate, I am proud of the significant changes my legislative colleagues and I made to the state’s minimum wage standard,” said Representative Naughton. “Through this deliberate piece of legislation I am confident that economic growth and quality of life will significantly improve for the good, hardworking business owners and workers of the 12th Worcester District and the Commonwealth.”
The compromise legislation increases wages for tipped workers to $3.75 per hour by 2017. Current law sets wages at $2.63 for tipped workers. In addition, the minimum wage for agriculture and farming will increase to $8 per hour from $1.60 per hour under this bill.
As part of unemployment insurance reform, the bill expands the experience rating table to allow stable employers to pay lower rates and require negatively rated employees to pay higher rates, from $0.73 per employee to $11.13 per employee. The expanded rating table also sets the taxable wage base at $15,000, an increase of $1,000 to achieve employer savings while ensuring the maintenance of a health UI trust fund.
To further support stable employers in the Commonwealth, the bill also allows the experience rating of employers to be determined by the past three years, instead of the current one-year.
The bill reduces unemployment insurance costs for employers by expanding the seasonal employer exemption to 20 weeks. Under current law, to qualify for certification a seasonal business must be in operation for fewer than 16 weeks or employ workers in one or more functionally distinct job titles for fewer than 16 weeks.
The bill also authorizes the Department of Unemployment Assistance to participate in a federal program that allows the interception of federal tax refunds to recover benefit overpayments.
Business owners will be allowed to collect unemployment benefits if they leave their company but will be required to pay back any money collected if they return to the same company within the same benefit year. Individuals will also be allowed to collect benefits if they quit a second job before they were laid off from their primary job.
The bill also does the following:
- Establishes a Council on the Underground Economy to combat the underground economy and employee misclassification;
- Prohibits crewmembers on commercial fishing vessels from being denied unemployment benefits if unemployment is the result of federal fisheries management restrictions;
- Requires all public contractors to certify they do not owe back Unemployment Insurance payments;
- Adds whistleblower protections for employees who testify about their employers’ defrauding the system; and,
- Requires the Department of Unemployment Assistance to hold at least one annual public hearing to receive input from employers;
The bill now goes to the Governor for his final approval.
Submitted by State Rep. Harold Naughton Jr.'s Office.