Minimum wage backers get boost from Obama

Martin Desmarais | 2/26/2014, 10:05 a.m.

Boston University Professor Peter Doeringer, an authority on labor relations and work organizations, said that President Obama’s executive order to raise the minimum wage for workers on federal contracts is an easy political move to make as it will have little impact on the federal contractors because the higher wage costs will be passed on to the government in the bidding process, but it will also have minimum impact on most American workers.

“The president is exercising the buying power of the federal government to accomplish a long-overdue increase in minimum wages for workers employed by federal contractors,” Doeringer said. “It may also have modest spillover benefits for private sector workers, particularly among government contractors who also operate in sectors outside of the federal government. But these spillovers are unlikely to affect employment in any significant way.”

If the ballot campaign is any indication, popular support is high for a minimum wage increase in Massachusetts.

Last fall, Raise Up Massachusetts and more than 50 Massachusetts community organizations conducted a campaign to collect signatures on petitions to have questions about minimum wage and sick time on the November 2014 election ballot. Each petition needed about 100,000 signatures by Nov. 20 to get a question or proposed measure on the ballot. About 280,000 signatures were collected — enough to place the questions on the ballot for a state-wide vote this fall. The petition for minimum wage collected over 150,000 signatures.

At the end of 2013, the state Senate passed a bill that would raise minimum wage from the current $8 an hour to $11 hour in the next two years. But the House has yet to vote or take up the bill, although House Speaker Robert DeLeo has indicated he would support the bill if its tied to reductions in the state’s unemployment insurance program designed to cut costs to businesses.

No action has been taken at all by either the Senate or the House on the sick time issue, so Raise Up Massachusetts is already moving ahead plans to get that question on the ballot next fall. Now, Finfer said, the organization expects to have to do the same for the minimum wage question.

“The Senate passed a good bill but things are more cloudy about whether the House will pass a strong bill and will they add other weakening pieces like a lower minimum wage for teens and cuts in unemployment benefits,” Finfer stated. “If the Legislature does not pass this by May 6, we can qualify it for a fall ballot vote if we gather a second round of voter signatures of around 30,000 during May and June. This is substantial work to do but we gathered 154,000 last fall so feel we can get this second group of signatures.”

Labor activists will specifically have nine weeks to collect the signatures needed if no minimum wage legislation comes through or if something is passed that is not strong enough to satisfy them.

By preparing for another signature drive, Finfer said they are covering all grounds.

“At least, in this case, we have an option if they don’t pass something or if they pass something that isn’t strong we can take something to the voters and then they can decide,” he said.