SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

March 21, 2014

Retailers bracing for possible minimum-wage hike

BOSTON — Hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers will get a pay raise this summer if the state’s lawmakers can find common ground on increasing the state’s minimum wage, a move business leaders warn will squeeze small businesses and prompt layoffs.

“It would definitely hurt,” said Ali Shah, whose family has owned Salem House of Pizza and stores in Danvers and Peabody for more than a decade. “We’d probably have to increase prices or cut hours or something like that to make ends meet.

Yesterday, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, introduced legislation to increase the state’s minimum wage incrementally from $8 to $9 per hour this July, $10 next year and $10.50 by 2016.

DeLeo’s bill also proposes raising the minimum wage for tipped workers — mainly restaurant and hotel staff — from $2.63 to $3.75 an hour by 2016.

The Massachusetts minimum wage hasn’t been increased since 2008. The state Senate in November approved a measure raising it to $11 an hour and tipped wages to $4 by 2016. The Senate version tied subsequent increases to inflation, similar to other New England states.

Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said his members are already preparing to dig deeper into their pockets.

“We’re at the point where we recognize a big increase is coming and that it will hurt a lot of retailers,” Hurst said. “We’re just trying to mitigate the severity of the damage.”

Hurst said opponents are focusing on amending the final bill to include repeal of the state law requiring time-and-a-half pay for retail workers on Sunday, a requirement he calls discriminatory.

“You would have 14-year-olds bagging groceries and stocking shelves on Sunday and getting paid a minimum $16.50 an hour,” he said. “We need to repeal that law.”

Rep. John Keenan, D-Salem, said he supports raising the minimum wage but wants safeguards for small-business owners.

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