Minimum wage ‘Fight for $15’ hits road block

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STATE HOUSE — After Boston Mayor Marty Walsh proposed studying a $15-per-hour minimum wage for the state’s largest city, House Speaker Robert DeLeo has expressed reluctance to see such a policy become law.

Facing pressure from a ballot campaign, lawmakers in 2014 hiked the hourly minimum wage throughout the state. They approved staggered increases from $8 to $11, which will fully kick in on Jan. 1, 2017.

As with statewide minimum wage legislation, a Boston-specific minimum wage would require approval by the state Legislature, Walsh said after raising the proposal in his State of the City address.

“I quite frankly can’t see us revisiting that particular issue, an issue which we just had taken up, and as a matter of fact it just rose January 1 of this year and it will rise another dollar January 1 of next year,” DeLeo told reporters on Thursday. “So I’m not sure how we would revisit that.”

Critics of minimum wage hikes have voiced worries that the increased financial burden on employers puts a strain on business and discourages the employment of young, inexperienced workers.

Proponents say the increased wage floor encourages more consumer spending and provide some dignity for workers at the bottom of the pay scale. Low-wage workers nationwide have launched a “Fight for $15” campaign to boost their pay, achieving success in some places.

“The Mayor commends the Speaker and the legislature for their work over the past few years to raise the minimum wage. The City of Boston is experiencing a period of strong economic growth making way for expanded opportunities for the city’s residents and the Walsh Administration is eager to use this growth to bridge many of the gaps associated with income inequality,” Walsh spokeswoman Bonnie McGilpin told the News Service in a statement. “Mayor Walsh supports raising the minimum wage to $15 in Boston, but understands the complexities.”

McGilpin said the mayor hoped to have a recommendation by the end of 2016.

Last year was the strongest year of job growth in Massachusetts since 2000, as 73,800 new jobs were added. Unemployment rates vary significantly from city to city, as Boston unemployment was a third of a percentage point below the statewide number in November at the same time when Lawrence was double the rate statewide.

DeLeo said there are some positive aspects to the idea of another minimum wage increase, and noted that when lawmakers raised the minimum wage in 2014 it was done in conjunction with changes to unemployment insurance viewed as providing business some relief.

“That’s interesting in terms of this whole $15 an hour discussion. Obviously it sounds good and a lot of folks I think deserve that $15 an hour. Having said that, we just went through an extensive – last session – through an extensive debate on this issue wherein we came up with a formula, which was accepted by all folks, and it made Massachusetts the highest minimum wage in the nation,” DeLeo said.

Legislation (SD 2307 / H 2923) filed by Sen. Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett) and Rep. Adrian Madaro (D-Easton Boston) would establish a $15-per-hour minimum wage for workers at Logan Airport in East Boston.

The House and Senate bills have been referred to the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, which last year reported out legislation (S 1024) hiking to $15 the minimum hourly wage for big box and major retail outlet employees.

— Written by Andy Metzger

Copyright State House News Service