Workers’ Rights Group Collects 140K Signatures For Ballot Question To Raise Minimum Wage

The deadline for signatures is this week.

Photo via Flickr.com/UncaMikey

Photo via Flickr.com/UncaMikey

UPDATE, Tuesday, Nov. 19:  In a 32-7 vote on Tuesday, the Senate passed a bill that would raise the minimum wage in Massachusetts to $11 by 2016, tying future increases to the Consumer Price Index for the Northeast region, and increasing earnings for tipped workers to 50 percent of that wage.

“This bill offers a much-needed helping hand to many of our residents and takes us one step closer to providing a living wage in the Commonwealth,” Senate President Therese Murray said in a statement. “We are facing a huge income gap that only continues to widen, where the workers at the top see large wage increases and the workers at the bottom are at a standstill. That needs to change. Increasing the minimum wage to $11 per hour by 2016 will directly affect nearly half a million minimum wage and low-wage workers in Massachusetts.”

The bill now has to go before the House of Representatives for a vote.

Independent advocacy groups have been pushing for a minimum wage increase, and recently collected the needed signatures to get a question about the increase before voters in 2014, in case the legislature fails to act.  One of those groups, Raise Up Massachusetts, thanked the Senate on Tuesday for passing their version of the bill.

“As we prepare to deliver the final round of signatures to city and town clerks to raise the minimum wage and provide earned sick time, we want to extend our sincerest thanks to the entire Senate, especially Senate President Therese Murray for her leadership to raise the minimum wage in Massachusetts,” according to a statement from Raise Up Massachusetts. “This is tremendous news for all low-wage workers…We are also pleased that the Senate has voted to raise the minimum wage for tipped workers. All Massachusetts workers have earned this chance to get closer to a living wage.”

EARLIER: As Senate President Therese Murray and other top elected officials take a stance on significantly raising the minimum wage in Massachusetts, a non-profit coalition recently collected more than 140,000 signatures, to try and assure that if the legislature doesn’t act the question of whether or not the state should increase pay for workers appears on the ballot in 2014.

For the past 10 weeks members of Raise Up Massachusetts, a group of community and labor workers, have been traveling across the state getting people to put their name down on signature sheets so that voters can weigh in on whether or not the Bay State should increase the minimum wage to $11. The current wage in Massachusetts is $8. It hasn’t gone up since 2008.

“We have gone far above and beyond what is needed because there is a lot to be said for strength in numbers,” said Susan Tousignant, President of SEIU Local 509 and a leader of Raise Up. “These numbers show just how many Massachusetts voters stand with families who need a higher minimum wage.”

The group also collected signatures so they could advance a proposal to allow minimum wage workers to have earned sick time. “When workers and their families can’t afford the basics, they aren’t able to spend money in their communities to keep the economy growing. That’s why Raise Up Massachusetts is fighting to require employers to offer earned sick time and raise the minimum wage,” the group said in a statement.

Altogether, the group brought in 131,492 signatures for a question about earned sick time, and 144,336 for the question about increasing the minimum wage. No contract signature gathering companies were paid during the group’s aggressive campaigning efforts to collect more than a quarter of a million names for the ballot petition.

The deadline for signatures, in order to get a question on the 2014 ballot, is November 20.

Groups trying to get a special question on the ballot during next year’s election cycle must collect more than 60,000 signatures by Wednesday.

After being validated by cities and towns across the state, the signatures then need to be approved by Secretary of State William Galvin’s office by December 4, before moving on to the state legislature. Once there, elected officials in the appropriate committees must act on the measures, and if they don’t, petitioners have to collect an additional 11,485 signatures if they want their proposal to appear before voters in November.

If passed by constituents in that manner, the initiative petition would take effect 30 days after the state election.

At the State House, Senate President Murray vowed to bring a wage hike discussion before elected officials this week. Murray’s plan would increase wages to $11 by 2016, and adjust it according to inflation. Unlike Murray’s plan, Raise Up Massachusetts would also include language that would address how much tipped workers, like wait staff, would make. Under their plan, tipped workers would be paid $4.15 an hour as of 2015, then $6.30 an hour by 2016. In 2017, the minimum wage for tipped workers would be adjusted according to the rising cost of living.

Attorney General Martha Coakley backed Murray’s charge last week, calling it a crucial step forward in the right direction. “In 2013, men and women who are working two or even three jobs shouldn’t be struggling to get by. As we continue to come out of the economic recession it is important that we work to ensure that everyone is sharing in our recovery,” she said.

Opponents of both the ballot initiative, and Murray’s proposal, have said raising the wage will have adverse affects, and will merely hold people back from furthering their careers. “Increasing the minimum wage misses the real reason that many of our fellow citizens struggle to achieve an adequate standard of living – lack of appropriate training for the high—value jobs driving the state economy,” wrote John Regan, executive vice president for Government Affairs at the Associated Industries of Massachusetts. “Far from helping poor people, the proposal to increase the minimum wage to $11 an hour by January 2016 and then index it to inflation will simply ensure that people whose skills do not justify that wage will not find jobs.”

Members of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts called Murray’s plan “disappointing,” and said not only does the proposed increase far exceed every state in the region, it exceeds every state in the nation, which could hurt business owners.

Massachusetts has one of the highest minimum wage rates in the country when compared to other states. According to the State House News Service, California pays workers a minimum of $8 an hour, and Washington has the highest minimum wage in the country at $9.19. Connecticut business owners shell out $8.25 an hour to workers, and employees in Vermont can earn up to $8.60 an hour.

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