The fight for a $15 statewide minimum wage is officially coming to Massachusetts.
Just a month before the state’s minimum wage rises to $11 an hour, a coalition of workers’ advocates on Tuesday announced a campaign to increase the wage floor again — this time to $15 an hour.
Raise Up Massachusetts, an alliance of community, labor, and religious groups, plans to draft legislation that would increase the wage by $4 over several years, which could be indexed for inflation after it reaches $15.
The bill would also raise the hourly wage for tipped workers, who currently make $3.35 an hour.
Raise Up Massachusetts was the driving force behind the most recent increase in the minimum wage, which rose $11 an hour from $8 over three years, and the paid sick time ballot measure, which passed in 2014. The coalition plans to reach out to legislators to cosponsor a bill, which must be filed in mid-January. A referendum that would put the matter in voters’ hands is also a possibility, said Raise Up cochairman Lew Finfer, but that won’t be decided until the group has had a chance to gauge legislative support.
Full-time workers who make $11 an hour make less than $23,000 a year, Finfer pointed out, “way, way, way below a living wage.” Raising their wages “helps our economy because every dollar that goes to a low-wage worker gets spent in this economy,” he said.
Nearly a third of the state’s workforce makes less than $15 an hour, according to the left-leaning Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.
Among them is Alonzo Foster, a 39-year-old KFC cashier in Dorchester, who will soon be earning $11 — a rate that still won’t allow him to afford a lawyer to get custody of his three children. Getting a boost to $15 an hour, however, “would help dramatically. I feel like that would be enough money for me to stay afloat and also enough money for me to cover my expenses for the fight that I’m having for my children,” he said.
A number of cities, including Washington, D.C., have moved to raise their minimum wage to $15 an hour. New York and California have approved $15 minimums, and the issue may be on the ballot next year in New Jersey and taken up by legislatures in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
But there are significant costs to raising the minimum wage that high, opponents say. Employers will do less hiring, cut workers’ hours, use more automation, raise prices, or move to a state with a lower minimum wage.
Chris Geehern, spokesman for the trade group Associated Industries of Massachusetts, said business owners who have had to grapple with paid sick time, a rising minimum wage, and a gender pay equity law “feel as if they’re under siege.”
What workers really need is not to make a few dollars an hour more flipping burgers, he said. They need the skills to allow them to get a better job.
“In the long run, training and education are really the only sustainable pathways by which people who are struggling today will share in the prosperity that our economy is creating,” he said.
Raise Up’s announcement came on a day of nationwide demonstrations by fast-food cooks, home health care workers, baggage handlers, Uber drivers, and other low-wage workers calling for a $15 minimum wage and union rights. Protesters blocked traffic in Detroit, shut down an intersection in Oakland, Calif., and chanted outside airport terminals in Chicago. Dozens were arrested.
In Cambridge, 34 protesters were arrested outside McDonald’s in Central Square, including state Senator Jamie Eldridge, for blocking traffic on Massachusetts Avenue. Dozens of airline contract workers at Logan Airport also walked off the job Tuesday, followed by a demonstration at East Boston Memorial Park and a rally at the State House.Katie Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.