In 2014, a coalition of community, faith, and labor organizations called Raise Up Massachusetts led the campaign to raise the state’s minimum wage, which was then just $8 an hour. With the minimum wage reaching $11 an hour on January 1 of this year, hundreds of thousands of workers across the state have seen higher paychecks over the last few years. And while opponents of the increase warned of economic disaster, it’s clear that extra money in the pockets of working people has only helped our economy grow.
Despite the progress we’ve made, the economic growth we’ve seen in Massachusetts still isn’t even. It’s not reaching many low-wage workers, especially in Boston and in our Gateway Cities across the state. Even after the January increase, a full-time worker in Massachusetts earning the minimum wage will make only $22,880 a year.
That’s not enough to get ahead, even for those who work two or three jobs to piece together enough money to make ends meet. A worker earning $11 an hour would have to work 94 hours every week in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent. Economic security depends on access to good paying jobs.
That’s why workers across industries are joining together with community and religious allies in the Fight for $15. From 200 brave fast-food workers walking off their jobs in 2012, our movement has spread to cities around the nation and to industries across the low-wage service economy. Once considered a long shot, workers have won $15 in California and New York State, in cities like Washington, DC, and Seattle, and in companies and industries all around the nation. Now it’s time for us to join them. Today, Raise Up Massachusetts is launching a campaign to win $15 for all workers in our state.
A recent report by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center found that increasing the state minimum wage to $15 by 2021 would raise the wages of roughly 947,000 workers, or 29 percent of our workforce. 91 percent of workers who would be affected are over 20 years old, 56 percent are woman, and 57 percent work full-time.
It would raise the wages of thousands of workers at Logan International Airport, New England’s largest publicly-owned airport. As in most airports across the country, airlines have outsourced thousands of jobs that once belonged to their own employees. To replace them, airlines hire low-bid contractors, creating a race to the bottom for wages and benefits. But even though Massport, the public authority that owns Logan Airport, has taken positive steps toward improving contract aviation service jobs, the low-bid contracting system still encourages companies to cut corners at any cost, even when such actions violate health and safety and basic wage and hour laws. Baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, and other passenger service workers were once paid decent wages and many were part of a union, but today their jobs look like those at McDonald’s.
Airports are a powerful symbol of what’s gone wrong for American workers and their jobs. That’s why passenger service workers are taking action and joining fast-food and other low-wage workers to win $15.
The Fight for $15 is also crucial for the economic prospects of our Gateway Cities, which desperately need the infusion of economic activity that raising the minimum wage would bring. The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center’s research shows that in Gateway Cities like Lawrence, Haverhill, Methuen, and Worcester, about 40 percent of workers would see their wages rise if the minimum wage were increased to $15 per hour.
This would be an economic boost to the communities that have been hit the hardest by chronic disinvestment and the loss of manufacturing jobs that supported local economies. When workers have more money in their pockets, they spend it at small businesses in their neighborhoods – helping those local businesses grow and create more jobs.
For Massachusetts to reach our full economic potential, all working people must be able to meet their basic needs. It’s time to build on our past progress and raise the minimum wage to $15 for all Massachusetts workers.
Roxana Rivera is vice president of 32BJ SEIU District 615, which represents 18,000 property services workers in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire. Ababuti Ogalla is a passenger service worker at Logan Airport.