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Campaign begins to put minimum wage on ballot

Advocates pressing for substantial increases to the state’s minimum wage are launching a campaign Wednesday to put the issue before voters in 2014.

The advocates, who have been working with lawmakers to increase minimum earnings from $8 to $11 an hour by 2015, hope their effort to collect tens of thousands of signatures for the new ballot initiative will compel lawmakers to take action.

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“Hopefully this moves them,’’ said Deb Fastino, cochairwoman of Raise Up Massachusetts, which is kicking off its campaign Wednesday. “We would love to see it passed in the Legislature, but if not, we will get it on the ballot.”

Members of the coalition are planning to hold rallies outside the stores of 13 companies that hire low-wage earners, such as Walmart, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Papa John’s. The coalition is also aiming to ask voters to decide on a mandate allowing earned sick time for all workers, Fastino said.

Advocates have been pushing lawmakers to gradually increase the minimum wage to $11 by 2015, and then adjust it each year according to inflation. They also want the minimum wage for tipped employees such as waiters to rise from $2.63 to $6.30.

Opponents of a minimum wage increase said it would hurt businesses, drive up prices, and stall hiring — hurting the people the increases are supposed to help.

While the state has one of the highest minimum wages in the country, the issue has gained traction recently, galvanizing supporters and foes.

But Fastino said the legislative process can be long and arduous, and that her group wants to cover all bases by getting the issue on the ballot in the next gubernatorial election.

“The workers of Massachusetts are losing out,’’ said Fastino, who is also executive director of the Coalition for Social Justice. “The gap is growing larger and larger between those who have and those who have not. People cannot continue to work more and more, because for them, it means less and less in their pockets.’’

To get a proposed law on the 2014 ballot, an initiative must first be signed by 10 voters and submitted to Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office for review by Aug. 7.

The attorney general must determine that the measure meets certain constitutional requirements, and then pass it along to the secretary of state by Sept. 7.

The proponents of the initiative must then collect 68,911 signatures of registered voters by late November. Once the signatures are obtained, the proposal must be filed with the local election officials and then again with the secretary of state. The measure will be sent to the Legislature in January 2014 for action. If the Legislature does not enact the measure, the proponents must gather another 11,485 signatures from registered voters by early July to place the initiative on the ballot, state officials said.

Meghan Irons can be reached at mirons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.
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