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(NECN: Peter Howe, Boston) - With Massachusetts Senate President Therese Murray leading the charge, Bay State legislators may vote as soon as Tuesday to raise Massachusetts' $8 dollar an hour minimum wage - what it's been since 2008 - to $11 an hour by 2016.
"This is Massachusetts -- we expected a minimum wage increase. You can set your calendar by it, about every five years," said Jon B. Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. But what’s stunned Hurst and other business leaders is how aggressive Murray's goal is. "Frankly, we didn't expect an $11 minimum wage, something that is $2 higher than any state in the Northeast."
Now while many businesses and business leaders say an $11 an hour minimum wage sounds a little expensive, what you don’t hear a lot of business groups saying is "Hell, no!" to the idea of a minimum wage increase. But they typically say it’s got to be part of a grand bargain that includes some relief for employers on things like unemployment insurance costs and retailers having to pay workers time and a half to work on Sundays, something that’s been required since 1980 under one of the first major efforts to repeal Bay State "blue laws" banning Sunday and holiday commerce.
Paul Guzzi, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber’s position on a minimum wage hike is that "it really can’t be looked at, in my opinion, as an isolated issue. It's all part of making this an environment where we can create jobs. Unemployment insurance has been an issue in this state for years. Our leaders know that. So this is an opportunity to connect them both."
Hurst said the idea of retailers having to pay people $16.50 an hour, minimum, for working Sundays come 2016 could be economically disastrous. "Retailers are going to deny those Sunday hours to your full-timers, to your longtime employees, plus it's going to suppress salary increases for Monday through Saturday," Hurst said. "Any increase that we look at, whether it's $3 or $1, needs to be equally offset with reducing the cost of business, the cost of employing people here in Massachusetts."
With videographer Todd LaBrecque and video editor Lauren Kleciak