Despite support from a majority of its members, legislation raising the Massachusetts minimum wage from $11 to $15 is ending 2017 the same way it began the year: pending before the Democrat-controlled Labor and Workforce Development Committee.
Meantime, citizen activists eager to put a $15 wage floor on the lawbooks are moving forward with their plans to do so without any help from Beacon Hill.
Raise Up Massachusetts, the coalition behind an initiative petition on track for a vote in November 2018, noted Wednesday that the minimum wage will rise on Jan. 1 in 18 states, but will remain the same in Massachusetts for the first time in four years. Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Oregon, and Washington have approved minimum wages that exceed $11 an hour, and California and New York are already on schedule to bring their minimum wages up to $15 an hour.
Although minimum wage hike opponents have warned that pay mandates will hold down job growth, the coalition said that since 2014, when the Massachusetts minimum wage was $8 an hour, employers have added more than 211,000 jobs in Massachusetts and the state’s low jobless rate points to a need for more workers.
Legislation gradually raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour failed to gain traction on Beacon Hill in 2017, a year when legislative leaders dealt with budget problems, the voter-approved marijuana legalization law, and unanticipated upheaval in the leadership ranks of the state Senate.
The Raise Up Massachusetts coalition estimates 943,000 workers, or 29 percent of the state’s workforce, would see higher wages if the bill passes. Of that group, 55 percent are full-time workers, 56 percent are women, and 90 percent are 20 years old or older.
Legislation filed by Representative Dan Donahue of Worcester and the late Senator Ken Donnelly of Arlington would raise the state’s minimum wage by $1 each year over four years until it is $15 an hour in 2021, and then adjust it each year so that it rises along with increases in the cost of living.
A News Service review determined that at least 11 of 17 members of the Labor and Workforce Development Committee, which has had custody of the $15 minimum wage bill throughout 2017, are cosponsors of the bills. They are Senators Jason Lewis, Patricia Jehlen, Sal DiDomenico, John Keenan, and Cindy Friedman, along with Representatives Elizabeth Malia, Christine Barber, Tricia Farley-Bouvier, Steve Ultrino, Gerard Cassidy, and Juana Matias.
Under joint legislative rules, the committee faces a Feb. 7 deadline to make a recommendation on the minimum wage bill. Secretary of State William Galvin is also preparing to send the initiative petition, which garnered signatures of more than 86,000 registered voters, to the Legislature in early January.
“The only raises I’ve ever gotten from Burger King are those required by state law,” said Christina Barnes, a member of the Fight for $15 coalition, in a statement Wednesday. “I work hard every day to provide for my family, but it’s impossible to keep up with the rising cost of food, child care, and rent when I’m paid so little,. If state law doesn’t change, Burger King is never going to increase my pay again. We need to raise the minimum wage to $15 so that low-wage workers can afford to get ahead.”
Asked for his position on the bill, Representative Paul Brodeur of Melrose, cochairman of the committee, did not pick a side, and suggested private talks are in the works.
“My Senate counterpart and I are continuing to convene negotiations between the Raise Up coalition and members of the business community on a number of topics, including the minimum wage,” Brodeur said. “We are working diligently to strike the right balance between fair compensation for workers and ensuring that Massachusetts businesses can remain competitive. I’m confident that these parties have engaged in a good faith effort, and I am eager to find a legislative compromise which works for everyone.”
Citing savings associated with federal tax reform, HarborOne Bank, which touts itself as the largest cooperative bank in New England, announced plans Wednesday to accelerate its plan to implement a $15-per-hour minimum wage for employees of the bank and its mortgage lending subsidiary, Merrimack Mortgage Company. The wage change, which had been planned over three years, will go into effect Feb. 5, 2018, according to the company, which is also awarding $500 bonuses to all employees with the exception of senior management and bank leadership.