BOSTON – Raise Up Massachusetts, a coalition of community organizations, religious groups, and labor unions, today launched its 2017 legislative campaigns for paid family and medical leave, a $15 minimum wage for all workers, and the Fair Share Amendment to create an additional tax of four percentage points on annual income above one million dollars, with the money dedicated to transportation and public education.
At a legislative briefing on Beacon Hill, policy experts and people who are affected by Raise Up Massachusetts’ campaigns spoke about how the agenda would help build an economy that works for all people in Massachusetts.
“Our broad coalition of community, faith, and labor groups is committed to building an economy that works for all of us, not just those at the top,” said Deb Fastino, Executive Director of the Coalition for Social Justice and a co-chair of Raise Up Massachusetts. “With our campaigns for paid leave, a $15 minimum wage, and the Fair Share Amendment, we’re building an economy that invests in families, gives everyone the opportunity to succeed, and creates broadly shared prosperity. With everything that’s happening at the national level, this work has never been more important.”
Paid Family and Medical Leave (HD2573/SD1768)
Raise Up Massachusetts’ paid leave legislation would make employees in Massachusetts eligible for job-protected paid leave to recover from a serious illness or injury, to care for a seriously ill or injured family member, or to care for a new child. The legislation prohibits employer retaliation against workers who take time off under these conditions.
“If I had paid family leave when my wonderful husband was dying of lung cancer, I could have stayed home, given him comfort, and advocated for what he needed,” said Christine Lavault of Fairhaven. “He would not have had to suffer like that. When families have a crisis they should be able to take care of their loved ones without fearing loss of finances or their jobs.”
Employees 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. Paid leave would last up to either 12 or 16 weeks to care for a seriously ill or injured family member or to bond with a new child (family leave), and up to 26 weeks for an employee’s own serious illness or injury (medical leave).
“No one should have to choose between a paycheck and their own health or the wellbeing of their families,” said Senate Committee on Ways and Means Chair Senator Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland), the lead sponsor of paid leave legislation in the Senate. “Paid leave is a common sense benefit that workers in nearly every other country in the world receive. Most working families cannot afford unpaid leave – we may need to take time off from work, but our financial obligations don’t ever take time off. We have also heard from many Massachusetts businesses that it is in their competitive best interest to offer paid leave, in order to attract and retain the most talented workers.”
“I am excited about this bill because it’s good for everyone – it’s good for families, it’s good for workers, and it’s good for small businesses,” said Representative Ken Gordon (D-Bedford), the lead sponsor of paid leave legislation in the House. “This program would allow employers who have workers on leave for inevitable situations to replace them at a neutral cost, either through a replacement temporary worker or additional hours for current employees.”
Benefits would be funded through employer premium contributions to the new Family and Employment Security Trust Fund or to private insurance plans. Both bills would allow employers to require employees to contribute up to 50% of the cost of premiums. The bills phase in over a few years, create a one-week waiting period before employees can receive benefits, use existing agencies for administration and enforcement, and allow companies to keep existing plans, all of which reduce costs.
“Today, 87% of workers in New England lack access to paid leave. Many workers risk losing their job if they take time off from work to care for a family medical emergency or after the birth of a child. Even workers with access to job-protected leave face financial hardship if they have to leave the job that puts food on the table to care for a family member they love,” said Elizabeth Toulan, a Senior Attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services. “With this bill, Massachusetts can join a growing number of states that offer paid leave so that no one has to choose between their job and their health or that of a family member.”
$15 Minimum Wage (HD2719/SD984)
Raise Up Massachusetts’ $15 minimum wage legislation, HD2719 (filed by Rep. Dan Donahue) and SD984 (filed by Sen. Ken Donnelly), would raise the state’s minimum wage by $1 each year over four years until it is $15 an hour in 2021. The minimum wage would then be adjusted each year to rise along with increases in the cost of living.
“I love my work taking care of children and helping prepare them for a lifetime of learning, but it’s hard to get by on such low pay. Between groceries, rent, heat, and gas, it’s tough to keep up every month,” said Marites MacLean, a family child care provider who owns and operates Children First family child care in Fitchburg. “If I made $15 an hour, I’d be better able to support myself and my family. Imagine how much it would help local businesses and our economy if all low-wage workers had more money to spend in our communities.”
“Raising the minimum wage is one of the most important actions we can take as legislators to help the working people of Massachusetts,” said Senator Ken Donnelly (D-Arlington), the lead sponsor of $15 minimum wage legislation in the Senate. “This is an issue worth fighting for and I look forward to working with everyone to get this crucial bill passed.”
“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,” said Representative Dan Donahue (D-Worcester), the lead sponsor of $15 minimum wage legislation in the House. “If we want economic growth in all communities across the state, workers need to earn a living wage so they can provide for their families and support their local businesses. Raising the minimum wage is critical if we want to help working people and grow our economy from the bottom up.”
Increasing the minimum wage to $15 by 2021 would raise the wages of roughly 947,000 workers, or 29 percent of the state’s workforce, according to a report by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center. 91 percent of workers who would be affected are over 20 years old, 56 percent are woman, and 57 percent work full-time. Workers who are paid low wages include highly skilled professions, like nursing assistants, childcare providers and paramedics.
The legislation would also increase the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers, currently $3.75 an hour, over 8 years until it is equal to the regular minimum wage.
“The sub-minimum wage for tipped workers leaves servers at diners, pubs and pancake houses; hairdressers; car wash staff; airport wheelchair and parking attendants; valets and other tipped workers facing financial uncertainty, and relying on tips makes them vulnerable to harassment and discrimination,” said Marisol Santiago, the Massachusetts Executive Director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United. According to a recent ROC report, over 90% of female restaurant workers experience sexual harassment, and the industry that produces the most complaints and violations, according to the EEOC and DOL, is the restaurant industry. “We should join the 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.”
Fair Share Amendment
The Fair Share Amendment would amend the Massachusetts Constitution to create an additional tax of four percentage points on annual income above $1 million. The new revenue generated by the tax, approximately $1.9 billion in 2019 dollars, could only be spent on quality public education, affordable public colleges and universities, and the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges, and public transportation. To ensure that the tax continues to apply only to the highest-income residents, the $1 million threshold would be adjusted each year to reflect cost-of-living increases.
“We’re one of the richest states in the nation, but we rank 33rd in the share of our state’s economic resources dedicated to public education,” said Tom Gosnell, President of the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts. “We need the Fair Share Amendment to make critical investments in education from early childhood through college.”
“For Massachusetts to address congestion and daily commuter frustration and to compete in tomorrow’s economy against other regions around the nation and the globe, we need to invest in modern, reliable transportation: safer roads and bridges, public transportation that works for everyone all around the state, and safer ways to walk and bike,” said Josh Ostroff, Interim Director of Transportation for Massachusetts. “Today, our transportation network is still stuck in the last century, with a large backlog of neglected and obsolete bridges, roads, bikeways, and public transportation infrastructure in need of repair. Reform is essential, but it’s not enough to meet the proven need. If we don’t provide the funding soon to deal with these problems, they will only get more dangerous and more expensive to solve in the future.”
“The MTA is proud to be a part of the RUM coalition and to fight for workers, families and students in Massachusetts. This work has never been more important given the attacks coming from Washington,” said Barbara Madeloni, President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA). “Passage of the Fair Share Amendment will give our public schools and colleges the resources they need to meet the broad and complex needs of all of our students, as well as provide much-needed improvements to public transportation.”
In 2015, Raise Up Massachusetts collected over 157,000 signatures to begin the process of amending the Massachusetts Constitution, all without using paid signature gathering companies. In May 2016, the state legislature, meeting jointly in a Constitutional Convention, voted 135-57 to advance the citizen’s initiative proposal. The initiative now needs a second approval by 25 percent of legislators in a Joint Session of the Legislature in 2017 or 2018 to appear on the ballot on November 6, 2018.
“A second affirmative vote in the Constitutional Convention will give voters the opportunity to generate new revenue for transportation and public education, which we need to ensure opportunity for our citizens,” said Peter Enrich, a Professor of Law at Northeastern University and one of the drafters of the Fair Share Amendment. “The Fair Share Amendment will pay for those critical investments with a more equitable tax that simply asks our wealthiest residents to pay at a level more comparable to the rest of us.”
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 over 350,000 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 2021, 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.