Bill would end Sunday time-and-a-half for Massachusetts retail workers
BOSTON — Massachusetts is one of two states that requires retail workers to be paid time-and-a-half on Sundays, a practice that could end under a bill that's advancing in the House.
Filed by Rep. Mathew Muratore, the bill (H. 1752) would remove the time-and-a-half pay for workers at retail stores, the only industry subject to such a requirement. Employees would still be paid at the higher rate for holidays and would retain the right to refuse Sunday shifts.
"It's not about taking money out of people's pockets," said Muratore, a Plymouth Republican elected last year. "It's not looking at taking away. It's looking at changing a law from 32 years ago."
Similar legislation has been proposed in the past. In 2010 and 2012, versions of the bill were returned to committees for study and never progressed further.
The measure is backed by the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, which says that repealing the time-and-a-half requirement would position Massachusetts store owners to better compete with online retailers and shops in nearby states.
"As we've increased the minimum wage, and now as we look to go to $11 ultimately on Jan. 1, 2017, you're talking about $16.50 an hour as a minimum on Sundays," Bill Rennie, the association's vice president, said. "You have stores at that point really taking a hard look at what they're doing on Sunday and can they continue to open, can they afford to continue to employ the same number of people. It's really going to be difficult to deal with that."
Muratore said his interest grew in the issue of Sunday wages after he learned that Massachusetts and Rhode Island were the only states to require the higher rate. He described the existing law, one of the state's so-called "blue laws" restricting business on Sundays and holidays, as outdated and said it was originally intended to entice people to work unpopular shifts.
"Nowadays, when people go into retail, they know they're going to be working weekends," Muratore said. "When you're hired, you know that."
Rennie said that he did not believe the change would discourage workers from taking Sunday shifts, and individual retailers would be able to make their own pay adjustments if they found it necessary.
"You have a lot of employees out there who are looking for additional hours, so if the change in law was made and retailers were struggling to get employees on Sundays, then they'd probably have to do some type of incentive on their own," he said.
Muratore's bill would also change the time that retail stores can sell alcohol on Sundays, pushing back the current 10 a.m. start time to noon. Muratore said the proposed change targets large establishments, like chain grocery stores.
Sunday alcohol sales became legal statewide in 2003, and a new law last year allowed liquor stores to open beginning at 10 a.m. on Sundays. Supporters of morning openings said at the time that the earlier hours would provide an economic boost and help businesses compete with their counterparts in New Hampshire and Rhode Island.
The bill emerged Nov. 16 with a favorable report from the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development and the House on Dec. 3 gave the bill initial approval. A favorable vote in the House to "engross" the bill would send it to the Senate for its consideration.
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