Mass workers call for raised minimum wage and family leave
Activists collect signatures for two new measures in next year’s ballot
12/15/2017, 6 a.m.
A group of activists from across the state rallied on Beacon Hill last week after turning in signatures to get two measures on the ballot in November 2018: a minimum wage of $15 per hour by 2022, and paid family medical leave. The coalition, Raise Up Massachusetts, is a collection of labor, religious and community organizations and was behind the successful passage of an earned sick time state ballot question in 2014.
“Being a fast food worker, it’s like any other job, like sitting at a desk or working at a doctor’s office — it’s just not stabilized,” said Barbara Fisher, a mother of two who works at a D’Angelos sandwich shop in Hyde Park and is a part of the activist group Fight for $15, which is particularly focused on the minimum wage increase. “Any job deserves a minimum wage such that someone can feed their family and put clothes on their back.” She noted a related problem employees often face in her industry: the lack of a steady schedule, which can impact budgeting efforts.
Not a side job
Other speakers echoed Fisher’s calls for a wage that reflected the value of their work.
“I do this work because my patients depend on me,” said Mekka Brown, a home health aide in Worcester, as she addressed the several dozen people in attendance. “Not just anyone can do this work that I do. It takes heart, compassion, and a general love of people to go into someone’s home to help them get dressed and prepare them meals. It’s a shame that the important work that I do is not paid enough.”
Brown added that she has to supplement her income by working for a second home health agency. “Providing help to people in their homes should not be a side job, and that’s how I feel it is right now — a side job.”
Speakers at the rally also called for paid family medical leave. The group’s ballot question would create an insurance program for workers in Massachusetts, which would pay workers close to their full paycheck while they take off eligible time: up to 16 weeks to care for a sick family member, address needs of active duty military families or care for a new child, and up to 26 weeks in the event of serious illness or injury. It would also protect workers from employer retaliation for taking off protected time.
Workers’ wages during this time would come from a trust fund financed by both employee and employer contributions. Business groups have previously expressed opposition to various versions of this idea when introduced in the Massachusetts Legislature, saying employers already have high labor costs in the Bay State. The coalition’s plan, however, calls for an employer contribution of less than 1 percent of each worker’s weekly wages to the fund.
“My employer waited until I was seven months pregnant to tell me they would not cover me under the Family Medical Leave Act,” said Rachel Mulroy, who works at a nonprofit serving children in New Bedford. The FMLA is the federal law that gives workers protected — but unpaid — time off for eligible reasons like pregnancy. “I had to spend my third trimester wondering if they would fire me when I went to have the baby.” While she was not fired, she said that after taking her six weeks of maternity leave, her hours were reduced by more than half when she returned: from 35 hours per week to 15.
Following last week’s signature turn-in, state lawmakers have until the end of the legislative session in June to enact the provisions. If not, the group will have to gather an additional 10,792 signatures to qualify their provisions for the ballot this November.
Fisher, for one, is ready for that.
“My kids and I went out, cold or hot weather, and we got these signatures,” she said outside the Secretary of State’s office. The coalition gathered more than 139,000 signatures for the minimum wage increase and more than 135,000 for paid family and medical leave, indicating an additional 10,000 will not be hard for them to collect.