Editorial: Is a 'grand bargain' possible here?

As Vermont Democrats regain their footing in the upcoming session and promise to pass legislation addressing a livable minimum wage and affordable family leave policies, they could benefit from studying what the Massachusetts Legislature passed in 2018. 

In a measure dubbed the “grand bargain,” the legislature there passed a $15 minimum wage bill that would be phased in over five years, similar to what was proposed in Vermont, but there were also concessions made to the business community. A one-day permanent tax holiday was created, and the bill would eliminate time-and-a-half pay for hourly workers on Sundays and holidays. Moreover, it did not raise the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers as much as many advocates had been asking. 

In other words, the liberal, heavily Democratic legislature to our south compromised with the business community to come up with a plan both signs could feel reasonably good about and gain the signature of Republican Gov. Charlie Baker.

As for family leave, the Massachusetts legislature passed a bill that asked both employers and employees to pay into the program, funded by a 0.63 percent payroll tax. Workers, who would pay approximately $4.25 per week into the program, would receive up to 12 weeks of family leave, 20 weeks of medical leave and up to 26 weeks total in a year. Workers would be paid 80 percent of their salary up to a certain limit (around $670 per week), then 50 percent after that, to a maximum of $850 a week. The leave program, however, would not go into effect until 2021 to allow the business community to prepare for the extra costs, and businesses with fewer than 25 employees would not have to pay into the fund.

The noteworthy point here is that the measures were heralded as a “grand bargain” precisely because it worked to include benefits for workers andthe business community. For many, it was as close to a win-win scenario as a split government usually gets. 

Perhaps if Vermont Democrats approached these business-worker issues in that same win-win spirit, the business community would feel a semblance of a “business friendly” environment that has long been talked about in Vermont —which just might yield an uptick in good paying jobs. And that, after all, is in itself a progressive outcome.

Angelo Lynn

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Addison County Independent

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Middlebury, VT 05753

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