Mass. Workers Will Gain Access to Paid Leave Benefits, Minimum Wage to Rise Jan. 1

In News, Press Releases by News Desk

State’s Paid Family & Medical Leave Program Launching Jan. 1; Minimum Wage to Rise to $12.75 in Third of Five Annual Increases

BOSTON – Starting January 1, 2021, millions of Massachusetts workers will be able to take 12 to 26 weeks of job-protected paid time off from work to take care of themselves after a medical emergency or the birth, adoption, or fostering of a new child. Starting in January, workers can begin applying for and taking paid leave benefits under the state’s new paid family and medical leave (PFML) law.

“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,” said Filipe Zamborlini, Public Policy Director at the Boston women’s shelter Rosie’s Place, who plans to begin taking paid parental bonding leave under the new law starting January 4. Parents of new children born, adopted, or fostered in 2020 can take paid parental bonding leave in 2021 during the first 12 months after a child joined their family. “I can’t wait to spend 24 hours a day as a dad bonding with my daughter and to support my wife as she gets back to work without having to sacrifice her career like far too many women are forced to when deciding between family and work. I’m grateful that PFML will let us take nearly six months to care for our daughter with my wife taking the first three months and then me taking close to three months.”

Also on January 1, hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers in Massachusetts will get a raise when the state’s minimum wage rises from $12.75 to $13.50 an hour, the third of five annual increases laid out in legislation passed in 2018 that will bring the minimum wage to $15 an hour in 2023. The sub-minimum wage for tipped workers will also rise from $4.95 to $5.55 an hour.

“It’s been a hard year, and every dollar counts. An extra bump in my paycheck means I’ll have more money for groceries, rent, and clothing,” said Waldir Antunes de Souza, who works in Nantucket. “They’re calling us essential workers, but we aren’t paid like we’re essential. I’m glad the minimum wage is going up so we get a little more of what we deserve while we’re out here working during the pandemic.”

In 2017 and 2018, the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition of community organizations, religious groups, and labor unions collected more than 359,000 signatures to qualify paid leave and $15 minimum wage questions for the ballot, all without using paid signature gathering companies. In June 2018, the Legislature passed and the Governor signed legislation to create a paid family and medical leave program and raise the minimum wage from $11 to $15 over five years.

“We led the campaign for paid family and medical leave because of a simple principle: no working person should have to choose between the job they need and caring for the family they love. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, this principle has never been more true,” said Deb Fastino, executive director of the Coalition for Social Justice and a co-chair of Raise Up Massachusetts. “For workers who can’t return to work because of long-haul COVID-19 symptoms that keep them bedridden for weeks, new parents who struggle to access affordable childcare and want time to bond with a new child, and families who must scramble to manage needs that arise when a service member is deployed in a foreign country, paid leave means financial support and peace of mind when you need it the most.”

“While many white-collar workers have spent the pandemic sheltering in their home offices and seeing their savings accounts grow, hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers have spent the past nine months struggling to afford protective equipment, food, and rent while working on the frontlines to keep others safe,” said Lily Huang, Co-Director of Massachusetts Jobs with Justice and a member of the Raise Up Massachusetts Steering Committee. “January’s minimum wage increase will mean more money in the pockets of workers who will spend it at local businesses, helping to support hard-hit low-income communities as we get through a difficult winter.”

“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,” said Lew Finfer, Co-Director of the faith-based Massachusetts Communities Action Network and a co-chair of Raise Up Massachusetts. “These policies are an important step toward the living wage and benefits that all deserve, and that our values say justice looks like.”

“Many low-wage workers have spent the pandemic putting their health at risk while working at grocery stores, cleaning buildings, caring for seniors and people with disabilities, and doing other critical in-person work,” said Harris Gruman, Executive Director of the SEIU Massachusetts State Council and a member of the Raise Up Massachusetts Steering Committee. “Our society calls these workers heroes, but their employers haven’t paid them like the essential workers they are. The increasing minimum wage and paid family and medical leave are two steps towards a system that rewards the hard work they do every day.”

“At this time more than ever, no worker should have to choose between going to work sick and losing their job because of a medical emergency,” said Cindy Rowe, Executive Director of the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action. “It’s immoral to ask workers to choose between protecting public health and risking their homes or going hungry due to a pandemic. People of faith continue to organize to ensure that all workers have the wages and family-supporting benefits they need to thrive.”

Paid Family and Medical Leave

Massachusetts’ paid family and medical leave program allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected paid leave to care for a new child, up to 12 weeks to meet family needs arising from a family member’s active duty military service, up to 20 weeks to recover from a serious illness or injury, and up to 26 weeks to care for a seriously ill or injured service member. Beginning on July 1, 2021, workers will be able to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected paid leave to care for a seriously ill or injured family member.

Summary of Benefit Categories, Length of Benefits, and Start Dates

Benefits CategoryCare for a new child (birth, adoption, or fostering)Care for the family needs of an active duty service memberCare for a serious personal illness or injuryCare for a seriously ill or injured service memberCare for a seriously ill or injured family member
Weeks of BenefitsUp to 12 weeksUp to 12 weeksUp to 20 weeksUp to 26 weeksUp to 12 weeks
Start DateJanuary 2021January 2021January 2021January 2021July 2021

Paid leave benefits are funded by payroll contributions which began in October 2019 and are equal to 0.75% of a workers’ weekly wages, split effectively 50-50 between employer and employee contributions. The maximum amount of earnings subject to employee contributions is $132,900 annually for each covered individual. Employers with under 25 employees do not need to make their own contributions, but their workers’ contribution and benefits stay the same.

Workers taking paid leave will receive wage replacement benefits from the new Family and Medical Leave Trust Fund calculated as a percentage of their regular income, up to a maximum of $850 per week. Workers can estimate the benefits they will receive here. The program uses a progressive wage replacement system that recognizes the particular challenges lower-wage workers face by replacing a substantial share of their lost income, while still ensuring meaningful benefits for all workers. The law also prohibits employer retaliation against workers who take time off under its conditions.

Work remains to ensure that all Massachusetts workers have access to paid family and medical leave. Municipalities have the option, but not the obligation, to provide their workers with paid family and medical leave under the state program. While some municipal employees work under collective bargaining agreements that provide for some form of paid leave, there is no uniform policy across contracts and not all are as fair as the state program other workers will now have access to.

Minimum Wage Increase

According to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, last January’s minimum wage increase, from $12 to $12.75 an hour, raised the wages of 420,600 Massachusetts workers, for a total wage increase of $410 million in 2020. Roughly 89 percent of workers who were affected by last year’s raise were adults, 60 percent were women, and 40 percent were people of color. As a result of last year’s increase in the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers, 61 percent of tipped workers saw their wages rise.

Due to the economic disruption created by the COVID-19 pandemic, data on exactly how many workers are affected by the January 2021 minimum wage increase is unavailable. However, research during the COVID-19 pandemic found that almost most one-quarter of frontline workers live in families with income below 200 percent of the poverty line. Many workers in the grocery, warehouse, building cleaning, health care, and child care industries receive wages at or above the minimum wage.

For employers, higher wages mean more efficient workers and less employee turnover, making it easier to recruit and retain workers and helping their bottom line. In most lower-income communities, between a third and half of all workers will get a raise as the minimum wage rises. That means more money they can spend at local businesses. More than 300 Massachusetts business owners and executives, and 90 Massachusetts economists, signed statements supporting a minimum wage increase to $15. Between 2013 and 2019, wage growth among low-wage workers was strongest in states with minimum wage increases.

In subsequent years, the bill will raise the minimum wage to $14.25 in 2022 and $15 in 2023. It will also raise the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers to $6.15 in 2022 and $6.75 in 2023. According to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, nearly 1 million Massachusetts workers, more than a quarter of the state’s workforce, will see their wages rise as a result of the full increase.

If workers do not receive the wage increase that is due starting January 1, they should call the Attorney General’s Fair Labor Hotline at (617) 727-3465 and file a workplace complaint through the Attorney General’s website.

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Raise Up Massachusetts is a coalition of community organizations, religious groups, and labor unions committed to building an economy that invests in families, gives everyone the opportunity to succeed, and creates broadly shared prosperity. Since our coalition came together in 2013, we have nearly doubled wages for hundreds of thousands of working people by winning two increases in the state’s minimum wage, won best-in-the-nation earned sick time and paid family and medical leave benefits for workers and their families, led the campaign for the Fair Share Amendment to invest in transportation and public education, and started to build an economy that works for all of us, not just those at the top. Learn more at raiseupma.org.