Progressive Newton has been busy in the early months of 2014! An Update from Robert Fitzpatrick.

Progressive Newton has been busy in the early months of 2014!

Last fall nearly 100 organizations in the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition collected 285,000 signatures statewide to put raising the minimum wage and earned sick time on the 2014 ballot. Progressive Massachusetts volunteers collected over 17,000 of those signatures – over 4,000 by our Newton team!

Thanks to those efforts, the Senate passed a strong minimum wage bill in November. All eyes turned to the House, where Speaker Robert DeLeo indicated he wanted to combine the minimum wage bill with changes to the Commonwealth’s unemployment insurance system. Some of the proposed changes, long sought by business groups, would make it harder to qualify for unemployment or decrease the length of time an unemployed worker could collect benefits. We oppose those changes: you shouldn’t “raise up” low-wage workers by taking from those who have no wages at all.

We’ve met with Rep. Kay Khan, Rep. Ruth Balser, and Rep. John Lawn to remind them of what’s at stake and the challenges faced by minimum-wage workers trying to get by in our expensive state. For several months now we’ve also been holding regular phonebanks to educate voters about the Speaker’s plans. The public has been enormously receptive and our little group has connected dozens of people with their representatives to express this simple message: Raise the minimum wage, leave unemployment alone!

Our efforts are working: this week Speaker DeLeo outlined a House proposal that does not cut unemployment benefits. It’s a lot closer to our position than originally feared, but it’s not quite close enough:

  • Unlike the Senate bill, it does not index the minimum wage to inflation. That means low-wage income workers will see their purchasing power eroded over time, and we’ll have to fight regularly for future minimum wage increases.
  • It raises the minimum wage for tipped workers (which has been a paltry $2.63 since 1999!) to only $3.75, far below the $5.50 in the Senate bill or the $6.30 in our ballot question. With a base wage of $3.75, the average tipped worker in Massachusetts will still earn only $10 an hour – less than the proposed new minimum wage.

In the coming weeks we’ll be making our voices heard again to improve the House bill. And then during conference committee, as the Senate and House merge their two different bills into one. If it’s still not good enough, we’re ready to go to the ballot just as we’re planning to do with the earned sick leave initiative.

As the Raise Up Massachusetts campaign continues, we’re also discussing our next projects, including the important 2014 elections and Progressive Massachusetts’s broader agenda for a fair economy. We’re also excited about the Progressive Massachusetts’ 2nd Annual  Policy Conference. on April 6 and seeing Robert Reich’s film Inequality for All with our friends in Needham and Wellesley on March 22.

If you’re a progressive in Newton who’d like to help make Massachusetts better, we want you on board! Just contact us at (617) 340-9527 or progressivenewton@gmail.com.

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