Low-wage workers filled the hallways at the State House Tuesday as legislators considered a number of bills that would have a major impact on their jobs, from giving hourly employees more predictable schedules to raising the minimum wage at fast-food chains and big-box retailers to $15 an hour.
Between a raucous rally inside the State House and a march to a nearby McDonald’s, several workers testified in front of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, whose cochairman, state Senator Daniel Wolf, is the sponsor of the $15-an-hour act.
Dunkin’ Donuts worker Theresa Pennington said that a pay bump to $15 an hour would help her save enough money to get her own place in hopes of regaining custody of her 5-year-old daughter. Dan Burke, a server at Temple Bar in Cambridge, spoke in favor of a bill that would do away with the tipped minimum wage, raising wait staff from $3 to $9 an hour.
Burke, 28, said that when he worked at an outdoor bar at the Charles Hotel last year, his pay dropped by half as the weather cooled down and fewer customers showed up — forcing him to pay bills late or rely on credit cards.
“I feel really powerless about my wages,” he said.
The push to raise the minimum wage and do away with last-minute schedules is part of a nationwide movement to create better conditions for lower-income workers. Still, it is unclear how successful the local bills will be. The state recently passed laws boosting the minimum wage to $11 by 2017 and mandating earned sick time for most employees, but this new round of bills has not yet generated much buzz on Beacon Hill.
Many industry groups are firmly opposed to further regulations on business. Frank Anzalotti, executive director of the Massachusetts Package Stores Association, testified that the current restrictions are taking a toll.
“If you keep putting this kind of pressure on folks, they’re not going to be able to do it,” he said. “We’re seeing small businesses as we know it disappear.”
Large retailers, however, could adapt to a $15 an hour minimum without reducing profits, said Jeannette Wicks-Lim, a labor economist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Simply raising the cost of a McDonald’s Big Mac by 60 cents, she said, could cover half of the total cost increase of a $15 minimum wage.Katie Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.