Merrimack Valley Legislators Hear Loud Demand for Passage of Paid Leave, $15 Minimum Wage from Voters at Lawrence Community Briefing

In Fight for $15, News, Paid Leave, Press Releases by News Desk

Raise Up Massachusetts’ Statewide Community Briefing Tour Comes to Lawrence As Grassroots Coalition Pushes for Passage of Paid Family and Medical Leave, $15 Minimum Wage Bills

Lawrence, MA – Merrimack Valley legislators heard a loud and clear message today from the voters gathered at the Lawrence Public Library for a community briefing on paid leave and a $15 minimum wage: “Pass These Bills!”

At the community briefing hosted by the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition, members of local community organizations, faith groups, and labor unions including the Merrimack Valley Project, Massachusetts Teachers Association, Lawrence Community Works, American Federation of Teachers, SEIU 509, SEIU Community Action, 1199SEIU, SEIU 32BJ, SEIU 888, Progressive Mass, Indivisible Westford, Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund, Solidarity Lowell, Seacoast Raise Up, PHENOM (The Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts) , and the Massachusetts Democratic Party spoke with Merrimack Valley legislators about the urgent need for an increase in the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022 and the creation of a paid family and medical leave program for all Massachusetts workers.

The briefing is part of a statewide tour pushing for passage of paid leave and a $15 minimum wage this spring, with events occurring in the South Coast, Springfield, Lawrence, Worcester, Boston, the North Shore, and Brockton throughout March and early April. Members of the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition across the state are also calling legislators, collecting postcards from supporters, and otherwise engaged in an all-out effort to pass the bills this spring.

“I work as many hours as I can, but at $11 an hour, it’s just not enough to pay rent, utilities, and food every month. With a $15 minimum wage, I’d be able to do more than just survive-I’d be able to pay all my bills and still have enough to start paying for college or saving for a car,” said Luis, a worker who spoke at the briefing. “No one working full time should make so little they can’t make ends meet. And if we all had more money in our pockets, we’d be able to spend it at local businesses, helping them succeed and grow.”

In Lawrence, Haverhill, and Methuen, 33,850 workers (40% of workers in the area) would see their wages rise if the minimum wage is increased to $15 per hour, according to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center. In Lowell, 18,737 workers (also 40% of workers in the city) would see their wages rise. In other parts of the Merrimack Valley, 22% to 23% of workers would see their wages rise. 87 percent of workers in New England don’t have access to paid family and medical leave today, and almost all Massachusetts workers would be eligible for it under Raise Up Massachusetts’ proposal.

“I did not have maternity leave after I had my beautiful baby six years ago, so I was not getting paid for the first months that I was taking care of my baby and taking care of myself. But the bills never stopped arriving,” said Carolina Sposito of Lowell. “As an immigrant, coming from a small country that has a paid maternity leave law I asked myself, ‘Why doesn’t this great state of Massachusetts support mothers? Why does our state penalize mothers and fathers when we want to have a family?’ “

“Today, I am taking this opportunity to tell you that everyone should be able to care for themselves and a newborn child without risking job loss and financial issues,” Sposito continued. “I want you to work for us, to work for the families of Massachusetts and update the old laws, make them fair, and make them open to all. Every employee in Massachusetts deserves this right and this state deserves happy families.”

Last fall, the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition of community organizations, religious groups, and labor unions collected a total of 274,652 signatures to qualify paid leave and $15 minimum wage questions for the ballot, all without using paid signature gathering companies. The coalition collected 139,055 signatures for a $15 minimum wage and 135,597 for paid family and medical leave, well beyond the required 64,750 signatures for each petition.

Now that signatures are collected, members of the coalition are asking the Legislature to pass the bills before the June 2018 deadline to act. At that point, ballot question proponents must collect another 10,792 signatures to place the questions on the November 2018 ballot.

The Raise Up Massachusetts coalition is also behind the Fair Share Amendment, which would create an additional tax of four percentage points on the portion of a person’s annual income that is above $1 million. The Amendment would dedicate the new revenue generated by the tax, approximately $1.9 billion in 2019 dollars, to investments in transportation and public education. The Fair Share Amendment is already fully qualified for the 2018 ballot, because it is a constitutional amendment which followed a lengthier path to the ballot.

Background: Paid Family and Medical Leave

Raise Up Massachusetts’ paid leave legislation (H.2172/S.1048) would create a Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program for Massachusetts workers, providing up to either 12 or 16 weeks of job-protected paid leave to care for a seriously ill or injured family member, to care for a new child, or to meet family needs arising from a family member’s active duty military service (family leave); and up to 26 weeks of job-protected paid leave to recover from a worker’s own serious illness or injury (medical leave), or to care for a seriously ill or injured service member.

The question prohibits employer retaliation against workers who take time off under these conditions, and workers taking paid leave would receive partial wage replacement equal to a percentage of their average weekly wages, with a maximum weekly benefit of either $650 or $1,000. Benefits would be funded through employer contributions to the new Family and Medical Leave Trust Fund, and employers could require employees to contribute up to 50% of the trust fund contributions.

While the United States is the only developed nation that does not offer paid time off after the birth of a child, California, New York, Rhode Island, and New Jersey all have paid family and medical leave, and both workers and businesses report positive effects. Because employees on leave receive their benefits from a state trust fund, businesses can afford to hire temporary replacement workers with the money they would otherwise use to pay the employee taking leave. Six years after California’s law was implemented, 89 to 99 percent of employers reported that paid family and medical leave had either a “positive effect” or “no noticeable effect” on productivity, profitability/performance, turnover, and employee morale.

Background: $15 Minimum Wage

Raise Up Massachusetts’ $15 minimum wage legislation (H.2365/S.1004) would raise the Massachusetts minimum wage, currently $11 an hour, by $1 each year over four years until it is $15 an hour in 2022. The minimum wage would then be adjusted each year to rise at the same rate as the cost of living.

Increasing the minimum wage to $15 by 2022 would raise the wages of roughly 943,000 workers, or 29 percent of the state’s workforce, according to a report by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center. 90 percent of workers who would be affected are over 20 years old or older, 56 percent are women, and 55 percent work full-time. Workers who are paid low wages include highly skilled professions, like nursing assistants, childcare providers, paramedics, and educators.

For employers, higher wages mean more efficient workers and less employee turnover, making it easier to recruit and retain workers and helping their bottom line. Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, a network of business owners and executives who believe a fair minimum wage makes good business sense, has released a statement signed by more than 250 Massachusetts business owners and executives who support gradually raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022. Raise Up Massachusetts has also released a statement signed by 90 Massachusetts economists in support of the minimum wage increase.

Today, Massachusetts has the largest gap of any state between the general minimum wage ($11/hour) and the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers ($3.75). This sub-minimum wage for tipped workers leaves them facing financial uncertainty, and makes them vulnerable to harassment, discrimination, and wage theft. Raise Up Massachusetts’ legislation would also increase the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers over 8 years until it is equal to the regular minimum wage. That would bring Massachusetts in line with eight other states, from California to Maine, that have eliminated the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers, without seeing any harm to restaurants or a reduction in tipping.

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Raise Up Massachusetts, a coalition of community organizations, religious groups, and labor unions committed to building an economy that works for all of us, collected signatures in 2013 and 2014 on behalf of two ballot initiatives: raising the minimum wage and guaranteeing earned sick time for all Massachusetts workers. In June 2014, the Legislature passed and the governor signed legislation giving Massachusetts the highest statewide minimum wage in the country. Raise Up Massachusetts then led the campaign to ensure access to earned sick time for all workers in the Commonwealth by passing Question 4 in November 2014. Now, Raise Up Massachusetts is working to create a paid family and medical leave program, raise the Massachusetts minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022, and pass the Fair Share Amendment to invest in transportation and public education with a tax on annual income above $1 million. Learn more at raiseupma.org.