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Mass. Senate to consider hike in minimum wage

Bob Salsberg, Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) -- A bill that would raise Massachusetts' minimum wage from $8 per hour to $11 by 2016 and tie subsequent increases to inflation will go before the state Senate next week, an aide to Senate President Therese Murray said Thursday.

The state's minimum wage has not changed since 2008 and is not automatically adjusted for inflation.

The bill, backed by Murray, a Plymouth Democrat, would increase the wage for the state's lowest-paid workers in increments over the next three years. After 2016, changes in the minimum wage would be linked to the Consumer Price Index for the Northeast.

The legislation also would require that the state's minimum wage always be at least 50 cents higher than the federal minimum, which is currently $7.25 per hour.

The Senate is expected to debate the bill on Tuesday. It was unclear when or if the House might consider similar legislation. Lawmakers are scheduled to recess after next week then resume formal sessions in January.

Murray first signaled her support for a higher minimum wage during a speech in April to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. She told the business leaders at the time that Massachusetts could help families, and especially single parents, by initiating a conversation about what constitutes a living wage.

Murray had not embraced any specific proposal until now for increasing the minimum wage, and Senate leaders opted against attaching an increase to a welfare reform bill now in negotiations with the House.

Advocates of a higher minimum wage packed a public hearing held by the Legislature's Labor and Workforce Development Committee in June, but several business leaders testified then that higher labor costs would make Massachusetts less competitive and ultimately hurt the workers it was trying to help.

Brian Houghton of the Massachusetts Food Association said employers might have to pass on the higher costs to consumers or cut worker benefits.

Those opposed to the increase also said it could inadvertantly hurt teenagers trying to land summer or part-time jobs, effectively pricing them out of the labor market.

The Massachusetts Communities Action Network has been gathering signatures to place a question on the November 2014 state ballot that would raise the minimum wage if the Legislature does not act before that time.