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State minimum wage rises to $11, activists keep sights set on $15

Raise Up Massachusetts plans to file legislation for gradual boost: A single parent needs $27/hour to scrape by in city without aid

Jule Pattison-Gordon | 1/4/2017, 1:36 p.m.

On Sunday, the state minimum wage rose to $11 per hour, completing the last phase of 2014 legislation that lifted the lowest pay levels. But while marking it a victory, activists are far from satisfied. Before the month is up they plan to file a bill to pick up where this past legislation left off, gradually increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour, after which it would be indexed to inflation.

“[Minimum wage] goes up to $11, which will be amazing,” Calvin Feliciano, deputy political director with SEIU 509, told the Banner in a phone interview. But, he added the movement cannot stop there. “For the people who are going to make $11 in few weeks, it [is a matter of], ‘Don’t make us wait two years to show you how broke we are and how little we can survive.’”

According to a 2014 Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center report, approximately 20 percent of wage earners statewide will experience a pay boost this January. That figure includes nearly 500,000 minimum wage workers, as well as another group of 132,700 workers currently earning slightly above minimum wage. MassBudget expects employers will increase the latter group’s pay in response to the rising minimum.

But “minimum wage” and “living wage” are two different things. In Boston, the amount one would have to earn to afford just the basic necessities — that’s the “living wage” — is $26.74 per hour for a single adult with one child, assuming she or he works full time year-round, according to research by Amy Glasmeier, MIT professor of economic geography and regional planning. For two working adults with one child, each adult would have to earn $19.64 per hour to survive in Boston without relying on public support programs.

Continuing on to $15

Raise Up Massachusetts is the coalition that advocated for the 2014 minimum wage legislation and remains active in calling for increasing it to $15. The group plans to introduce legislation this January that would raise the minimum by $1 per year, until it hits $15. In addition, one of the bill’s provisions would increase the sub-minimum wage paid to tipped workers, Feliciano said.

Feliciano and Harris Gruman, director of the SEIU State Council, spoke separately to the Banner. Both stated that there are multiple willing candidates to act as the bill’s lead sponsor in both House and Senate, and that activists are deliberating over the most strategic choices. Despite this backing, they consider it unlikely that a $15 minimum wage bill can secure sufficient legislative votes to prevent a veto. That almost certainly will be Governor Charlie Baker’s response, Feliciano said, citing the governor’s lack of support for the 2014 bill.

“If we pass something, I’m sure [Baker] vetoes it. He was against the minimum wage we have now,” Feliciano said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Jamie Eldridge, who will co-sponsor upcoming $15 minimum wage bill, said he is “cautiously optimistic” that it will pass next session. Eldridge noted that many senators view it favorably, and that House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he would debate the measure in the new session.