Push to Raise the Minimum Wage Could Land on the 2014 Ballot

A new group is rallying for support to increase the amount certain workers are paid in Massachusetts.

As McDonalds accidentally proved this week, living off of the minimum amount of income is a tough job for any employee, so a coalition of unions, advocacy groups, and faith leaders, are taking a stand to try and spur change in Massachusetts.

On Wednesday, members of “Raise Up Massachusetts” will formally kick off their campaign with a goal of letting voters decide if the minimum wage should be raised in Massachusetts by putting the question on the 2014 ballot, just in case current legislation fails to pass.

Aside from calling on voters to help raise the minimum wage, which is currently $8 an hour, to $11 an hour, the group will also include a ballot question asking if minimum wage workers should be allotted 40 hours of earned sick leave.

“Massachusetts workers are in need of relief. Their wallets are suffering, and so is their well-being. We cannot let this go on for any longer. The time has come to give Massachusetts workers access to earned sick time, and to provide them with financial relief by raising the minimum wage to meet the rising cost of living,” according to a statement from organizers.

The group planned a rally at the State House on Wednesday, July 24, to announce the formation of the initiative, claiming that a dual-ballot question could help drive up the dwindling voter turnout locally. The rally is part of a statewide tour organized by Raise Up Massachusetts. “This is about better wages and working conditions for working families across the Commonwealth—as well as the economic boost that will result. While we’re excited by recent progress on Beacon Hill, we know how long the legislative process can take. Massachusetts workers have waited long enough,” said Susan Tousignant, president of SEIU Local 509, and co-chair of the ballot committee.

The ballot questions will likely be modeled off legislation filed by Senator Daniel Wolf, of Harwich, and Senator Marc Pacheco, of Taunton.

In June, during his push to advance that legislation, Pacheco told Boston that low-wage workers have bills to pay and basic needs they need to have met, and the current rate of pay doesn’t keep up with the cost of purchasing products.

According to Pacheco’s proposal, the bill would raise the current minimum wage from $8 an hour to $9 an hour 60 days after passage, then to $10 an hour starting on July 1, 2014, and finally, to $11 an hour beginning July 1, 2015. Beginning in 2016, the minimum wage would then start increasing based on the spike in the Consumer Price Index, “thereby preventing further decline in value in the future,” the bill states.

State Treasurer Steve Grossman has backed Pacheco’s plan, and the group’s request for sick leave. “Earned sick time is a moral responsibility, it’s an economic responsibility, and it’s up to us to make that happen,” he said in a recent statement.

Unlike Pacheco’s proposal, the ballot initiative would make an immediate increase to the state’s minimum wage structure. “I understand the struggle that people face when they have to choose between taking care of their health when they are sick, or going to work. I make minimum wage and live from paycheck to paycheck, so I understand the financial strain that comes with missing a day of work. The bottom line is that paychecks need to be able to keep up with the prices, and people need to be able to take care of their health, without penalization at work,” said Freddy Reyes, a low-wage worker, and member of the group.

Currently, the minimum wage in Massachusetts is $8 an hour, putting the state behind six other states with higher pay rates for employees.

A 2012 report from the Economic Policy Institute showed that by increasing the minimum wage to $10 per hour, more than a half a million Massachusetts workers would benefit from the raise, and create thousands of new jobs.