Workers plan to seek statewide $15 an hour minimum wage

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STATE HOUSE – The minimum wage in Massachusetts is set to rise one dollar to $11 an hour on Jan. 1, but low-wage workers are poised to press for passage in 2017 of legislation boosting the wage floor to $15 an hour.

Workers and labor union officials packed Great Hall Tuesday where organizers told the News Service they plan to seek a $15 an hour statewide minimum wage during the 2017-2018 session. Bills calling for a $15 wage floor for airport workers and big box retail store employees failed this session, and activists have elected to broaden the scope of their legislation to encompass all minimum wage employees.

The $11 an hour minimum wage will represent the third and final increase authorized under a 2014 law.

The 2014 law was approved by the Democrat-controlled Legislature and signed by former Gov. Deval Patrick after unions, community and religious groups and low-wage workers threatened to bring a minimum wage increase to the ballot that year.

Lew Finfer, director of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network and co-chair of the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition, told the News Service activists plan to push lawmakers to adopt a $15 an hour bill next session. Depending on how they fare, a 2018 ballot question could be a backup plan, he said.

In 2014, Beacon Hill leaders agreed to raise the minimum wage from $8 an hour to $11 an hour after activists gathered 190,000 signatures to qualify their own proposal for the 2014 ballot. The ballot proposal that year would have raised the minimum wage to $10.50 and tied it to inflation.

Finfer said next session’s legislative proposal would phase the $15 an hour minimum wage in over several years, but did not have further details.

If activists opt to pursue a 2018 minimum wage ballot question, the proposal could be paired up with a proposed constitutional amendment adding a 4 percent income surtax on household incomes above $1 million, a proposal aimed at generating about $2 billion for spending on transportation and education.

“I believe that in America if you work hard you should be able to afford a roof over your head, but working in fast-food, homecare, and even at some of the world’s most travelled airports that is not a guarantee,” Tiffany Bocage, who earns $10 per hour working at a McDonald’s, said in a statement from Raise Up Massachusetts. “It’s time for Massachusetts to step up and show we are better than that.”

Working full time at $11 per hour, Raise Up Massachusetts said, a worker would earn $22,880 annually. A minimum wage worker would have to work 94 hours a week in to afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent, the group said.

— Written by Michael P. Norton