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Wage Watch: Massachusetts gets a pay hike, Ikea’s worker raise has limits

Massachusetts Governor Deval PatrickMassachusetts Governor Deval Patrick
Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.John Tlumacki/Boston Globe—Getty Images

With new $11 rate, Massachusetts captures minimum wage crown

On Thursday, Massachusetts became the ninth state this year to raise its minimum wage and, in doing so, claimed the title of highest-paying state from Vermont, which had owned it for a mere two-and-a-half weeks following its own $10.50 hike. Following a campaign by Raise Up Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick signed the bill that will lift the state’s minimum hourly pay to $11 by 2017, a $3 increase from its current rate and 50% higher than the federal minimum wage.

The increase—the state’s first since 2008—will affect some 500,000 workers statewide and will go into effect over the next two-and-a-half years, with the first raise to $9 occurring on January 1, 2015. But there is a downside to the new law: unlike other states that have increased their minimum wage this year, Massachusetts did not index its new rate to inflation so, barring a federal minimum wage increase, it could have to address the issue in a few years. The new wage law also doesn’t include a provision for mandatory earned sick time, which activists had tried to tie to the hike.

In California, last year’s minimum wage dealmaking kills this year’s bill

Californians are set to get a raise next week when its $9 an hour minimum wage instituted by a bill passed last year goes into effect. In 2016, the rate will increase to $10. But those raises were not enough for state Senator Mark Leno, a Democrat from San Fransisco, who’d hoped to override them with a proposal to increase the statewide rate to $13 in 2017.

In a stunning move on Wednesday, two Democrats in the California Assembly effectively killed Leno’s bill by declining to vote on it. Why? Luis Alejo, one of the assemblymen who sat out the vote, was the author of last year’s minimum wage law. That legislation, he told the Sacramento Business Journal, was the result of negotiations between the governor, business groups, and organized labor. Passing the $13 bill would have undone that deal. “You have to keep your word,” he said.

Better than Swedish meatballs: Ikea workers get a pay bump

In five months, about the time it will take you to assemble that Borgsjo bookshelf, Ikea workers will see their average minimum hourly wage go up by 17%, or about $3.51 more than the $7.25 federal minimum wage.

Ikea’s U.S. acting president and CFO Rob Olson said the move to raise worker wages in 2015 and tie it to given regions’ cost of living “is not only the right thing to do, it makes good business sense.”

While the increase follows a similar move by The Gap, which announced in February that it will pay retail workers at its 2,000 Americans stores at least $10 by June 2015, Ikea’s hike won’t have as big an effect in America. The home furnishings giant has just 38 U.S. locations. Plus, as Slate pointed out, the Swedish retailer’s suburban locations make it difficult for Americans most in need of a higher wages—namely urban residents—to reach and subsequently work at Ikea stores.

Top Washington state court to decide if 4,700 airport workers get a raise

In November, residents of tiny Sea Tac, Washington, a suburb of 27,000 that surrounds the Seattle region’s largest airport, passed a $15 minimum wage law by the slimmest of margins—77 votes. The bill managed to survive a recount, too.

But that streak of narrow victories came to an end in December, when a superior court judge determined that, because the airport is owned by the Port of Seattle, the city of SeaTac doesn’t have the authority to set rules for workers there. The decision in the case brought by Alaska Airlines permitted 1,600 workers at hotels and parking lots around the airport to receive a raise but denied higher pay to 4,700 employees who work in the airport itself.

On Thursday, the Washington Supreme Court heard oral arguments on whether that decision should stand.