Massachusetts

Mass. high court rules voters can decide question to raise wages for tipped workers

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled Thursday that the state attorney general had properly certified that the question should be eligible to go before voters in the November election

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Massachusetts' highest court has tossed out a challenge to a proposed ballot question that would raise the minimum wage businesses must pay to workers who rely on tips and permit tip pooling among both tipped and nontipped employees.

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled Thursday that the state attorney general had properly certified that the question should be eligible to go before voters in the November election.

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The Massachusetts Restaurant Association and others have opposed the question, arguing in part that under the state constitution initiative petitions must contain only related or mutually dependent subjects. Opponents argued that increasing what employers must pay tipped workers while also allowing businesses to divide those tips between their full staff were too unrelated to include in a single question.

The court rejected the challenge finding that the question does in fact form a “unified statement of public policy on which the voters can fairly vote ‘yes’ or ‘no.’”

Under current state law, the minimum hourly wage for most workers is set at $15. A separate law permits employers to pay tipped employees an hourly wage of $6.75. The employer can then use any customer tips to cover the remaining $8.25 per hour owed to the employee to reach $15 dollars.

A separate part of the state law limits the distribution of customer tips to only “wait staff employees,” “service employees,” and “service bartenders” and prohibits the pooling and distribution of tips to other employees.

As a result, nontipped employees are paid at least the full statutory minimum wage by their employer but cannot share in any customer tips that tipped employees receive.

The ballot question would gradually raise the hourly wage that employers must pay tipped employees over the course of several years, starting Jan. 1, 2025 and ending on Jan. 1, 2029, when workers would have to be paid the full minimum wage.

“In sum, all employees would be guaranteed the full statutory minimum wage, and tipped employees are guaranteed that any tips they receive are always on top of the full statutory minimum wage. By permitting tip pooling among tipped and nontipped employees, the proposed law also allows employers to distribute tips among all employees,” the court wrote.

Opponents of the question have argued that eliminating the tipped wage would be especially harmful to small and independent Massachusetts restaurants.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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