The Falmouth Chamber of Commerce is soliciting feedback from local businesses on a proposed increase to Massachusetts’s minimum wage.
The increase would bring the minimum wage from its current rate of $8 per hour to $11 per hour by 2016.
The wage hike was approved by the Massachusetts Senate in November by an 32-7 vote. The House will take up the bill in January.
An amendment to the bill, which also passed in the Senate by a wide margin, would raise the minimum wage for tip earners and waitstaff from $2.63 per hour to 55 percent of the minimum wage. Waitstaff would need to be earning at least $5.50 per hour by 2016.
President and chief executive officer of the Falmouth Chamber of Commerce, Jay Zavala, sent an e-mail out to the chamber’s 1,400 member mailing list asking for feedback on how the wage increase would affect businesses.
“We are concerned about the increased cost to our smallest businesses,” the e-mail reads.
Sitting in his office at the chamber’s downtown visitor’s center, Mr. Zavala said he has received 27 responses to his e-mail inquiry and that only two respondents were categorically in favor of the bill. The other 25 respondents were opposed to all or portions of the bill and the tip earner amendment.
Mr. Zavala read a sampling of the responses from his computer files. “This wage increase is bad for business, consumers and the state,” he read. Another response: “If this hike happens, it will make my salaries less attractive.” And another: “I am in favor of the increase; I recognize that some businesses will feel it more than others.”
In concert with state representative David T. Vieira and other regional chamber members, Mr. Zavala has organized a “listening forum” for early January. “We’re hoping to place before them the reactions of the business community in our part of the state,” Mr. Zavala said. Rep. Vieira will serve as moderator.
Any increase in wages will “have to be balanced with price increases,” Mr. Zammer said.
State representatives from Falmouth, Mashpee, Sandwich, Bourne and Wareham will be invited to the forum. “Our entire purpose is to give our legislatures as much information as we can, both orally and in writing,” Mr. Zavala said.
The forum will take place Thursday, January 9, from 7:30 to 9 AM at the Coonamessett Inn in Falmouth.
Coonamessett Inn owner William Zammer said in a phone interview, “I have no problem with raising the minimum wage. But I do have a problem with they’re talking about raising the minimum wage for tip earners.”
Mr. Zammer said “I’ve been paying above minimum wage for years” and said that his lowest paid non-tip earning employees at his four restaurants make between $11 and $12 per hour. “You have to, no one’s going to work for less than that,” he said.
Two-Tiered Minimum Wage
But Mr. Zammer did say he felt there should be a two-tiered minimum wage, one for adult wage earners and another lower minimum wage for teenagers and trainees.
Employers are already required to supplement a waiter or waitress’s income if their earnings fall below the hourly minimum wage after tips are factored in. Mr. Zammer said his waitstaff makes “dramatically over” minimum wage once their tips are added to their $2.63 hourly pay. “It’s not even close,” he said. That is why he is against raising the minimum wage for tip earners, he said.
Any increase in wages will “have to be balanced with price increases,” Mr. Zammer said. With increasing food, utility and insurance costs, the profit margins for restaurants “have been driven down,” he said.
Mr. Zammer said a similar listening forum was held recently in Hyannis, and that the atmosphere became “raucous,” with business owners yelling at State Senator Daniel Wolf, who voted for the wage increase.
“We intend not to have any screaming and yelling,” Mr. Zammer said.
Mr. Zavala said that after the listening forum, he anticipates forming a committee with Rep. Vieira to put together an amendment to the bill.
“What I read into it is that there’s a sense that this is inevitable, and how can we propose an amendment to make it less painful,” Mr. Zavala said. He considered his words a moment and made a correction, “Not less painful, but more balanced.”
Mr. Zavala’s e-mail out to the chamber’s constituents proposes that any increase in wages should be balanced with “an overhaul of workers compensation and unemployment insurance rules and regulations.”
According to The Boston Globe, House leaders are looking to couple an increase in the minimum wage with unemployment insurance. The paper quoted House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo saying that the minimum wage is something lawmakers “should address” but “if we can’t do it in coordination with [unemployment insurance], I may not be so sure.”
A bill that proposed a smaller increased to the minimum wage, from $8 to $9.50, was rejected by the Senate in a 8-30 vote, with opponents saying the hike was insufficient.
The bill that did pass in the Senate also stipulates that, after 2016, the minimum wage shall automatically increase in tandem with the consumer price index.
The Falmouth Chamber of Commerce may come out with an official position on the wage increase bill after its 15-member board meets next month, Mr. Zavala said.
Falmouth’s two state representatives are David T. Vieira, who represents East Falmouth, Waquoit, and Hatchville, and Timothy R. Madden, who represents Woods Hole, the downtown area, West Falmouth and North Falmouth.