House Minimum Wage Bill Seen as Positive Step, But Has Issues Say Advocates
BOSTON/State House - The Mass. House of Representatives passed a new bill on Wednesday that would see the current state minimum wage of $8 an hour rise to $10.50 an hour by 2016.
In November, the state Senate approved a bill that would increase the minimum wage to $11 an hour and both legislative bodies will now have to strike a balance between the two bills before an increase in the minimum wage can be ratified.
The House bill would also update the state’s unemployment insurance system, provide certain protections for domestic workers, but it is not tied to the cost of living unlike the Senate bill.
Raise Up Massachusetts, a coalition of labor, community, and faith groups, which has been advocating for an increase in the state’s minimum wage and for other job protections, told Open Media Boston in a statement, they are “pleased” with both the House and Senate bills.
As regards tying the minimum wage to the cost of living, mandating earned sick leave for employees, and raising the tipped workers’ minimum wage to a “fair” level, Raise Up says they are “optimistic that the minimum wage legislation that reaches the Governor’s desk includes these important changes.”
The statement says “raising and linking the minimum wage to the rising cost of living is the only way to sustain the economic stability of low wage workers and prevent them from slipping into poverty. Tipped workers also face similar, if not worse, challenges as they have inconsistent earnings in the best of times.”
The House bill would also raise the minimum wage for tipped workers from $2.63 to $3.75 an hour, but it falls significantly short of the Senate bill, which would increase it to half of the minimum wage by 2016, or $5.50 an hour.
The Restaurant Opportunities Center, a labor advocacy organization, told Open Media Boston in a statement, “The 50% in the Senate is a necessary first step toward eliminating the unfair sub-minimum wage” for tipped workers, and they are thankful to senators for indexing the tipped-worker minimum wage to inflation in their bill.
“However,” the statement says, “we find the House bill unacceptable,” and the organization is preparing to advocate further on the issue as part of the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition.
While seeing any increase in the state’s minimum wage as a “step forward,” 15 Now New England, a Socialist Alternative campaign, says the House’s proposal is not enough.
In a statement provided to Open Media Boston, 15 Now says “the proposed $10.50 minimum wage is still not a living wage, and we can't wait 2 years to get it,” and it “would not even bring a full-time worker with a family of four above the federal poverty line.
“For someone to work full time, in one of the wealthiest states in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and still not make enough to live off of is absolutely unacceptable,” the statement continues.
The campaign says it will continue to advocate for a $15 an hour minimum wage “as a key initiative to pull working people out of poverty.”
According to a Massachusetts Institute of Technology research project that provides data on the living wage by state, city, and region, the Bay State’s current minimum wage is significantly below the living wage needed to make ends meet, and the increases proposed in both the House and Senate bills would also fall short of this goal.
Figures on the Living Wage Calculator show that a single adult in Massachusetts would need to earn $11.31 an hour to make ends meet, and with one child they would need to earn $24.84 an hour; the cost rising exponentially depending on the number of adults and children in a family.
State Senator Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton), who filed minimum wage legislation in January last year that would increase the minimum wage to $11 an hour incrementally and index it to inflation, was supportive of the House bill, but maintained that it needs to be tied to the cost of living.
In a statement to Open Media Boston, Sen. Pacheco says, “I am glad the House has taken action to show citizens of the Commonwealth they, too, support economic justice for minimum wage workers.
“Hardworking families who are already struggling to make ends meet should not need to beg the Massachusetts legislature for a raise every few years when our own salaries are indexed. The only way to ensure economic justice for minimum wage workers is to tie their wages to inflation to prevent further erosion of their purchasing power in the future,” the statement continues.
State Representative Denise Provost (D-Somerville), who proposed a bill that would raise the minimum to $11 an hour by July 2013, and to $11.50 by July this year, said in a statement to Open Media Boston, “I believe that a minimum wage should be sufficient to keep workers out of poverty.
“That said, I’m pleased that the House has voted to increase the minimum wage significantly, and I hope that it might come out of conference committee even higher,” the statement continues.
Critical of what they described as a “labor package,” the Retailers Association of Massachusetts told Open Media Boston in a statement that the House bill “failed to deliver on the promise of balance by ignoring the needs of the employer community.
“Although better than the Senate[-]passed bill for costs on both minimum wage and unemployment insurance, the facts remain that the state is poised to increase the minimum wage by 32-38% to the highest level in the country without any real system changes,” in regard to unemployment insurance, the statement continues.