The campaign to secure earned sick time and increase the minimum wage is in full force across the commonwealth, as hundreds of workers, faith and community leaders rallied outside of the State House for the launch of Raise Up Massachusetts. Marked by rallies, protests and marches in local communities throughout Massachusetts, the statewide initiative is set to place these critical issues on the November 2014 ballot.
More than a million workers in Massachusetts – almost one-third of the overall workforce – are at risk of losing the wages and jobs their families depend on if they stay home to care of themselves or a sick child. Another 580,000 workers stand to benefit from a long-overdue increase in the minimum wage, which would rise to $11 per hour and be indexed to inflation under the current ballot proposal. Workers most greatly impacted by the measures took center stage at the Raise Up Massachusetts launch, calling on supporters to take the fight for better wages and working conditions directly to the ballot box.
“I understand the struggle that people face when they have to choose between their own health and their paycheck,” said Freddy Reyes, who nearly lost his food service job after sustaining a serious injury at work. “I already live check-to-check, so I know the financial strain that comes with missing even a day of work. People shouldn’t live in fear of being penalized or fired for taking care of themselves or their families.”
Earned sick time benefits have been demonstrated to benefit businesses by reducing employee turnover and lost productivity. States and municipalities that have implemented earned sick time have seen job growth, and most employers report no negative impact on their profitability. Many economists, including those at the national Center for Economic & Policy Research, say that job retention policies such as earned sick time reduce unemployment and strengthen the economy – a point that was echoed by business owners at events throughout the commonwealth Thursday.
“People should be given time to take care of their well-being,” said Rob Everts, owner of Equal Exchange, based in West Bridgewater. “We have found that by providing employees a few days per year to go to the doctor or take care of their sick child, they are more productive at work, which in turn is good for the business.”
Bills that would provide all workers with earned sick time and increase the minimum wage are currently sitting before the legislature, waiting for a vote. Their chance to act is now.
Senator Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton) says he introduced his minimum wage legislation so that workers such as Freddy Reyes would no longer have to struggle just to make ends meet. The bill offers hope to nearly 600,000 low-wage workers, almost all of who still fall well under the federal poverty line despite working 40 or more hours each week. One of every five is a parent, underscoring the real need for action.
“Minimum wage workers in Massachusetts have not had a raise since 2008, while earners at the top of the pay scale continue to see their salaries go up,” said Sen. Marc Pacheco, who authored the bill to promote the Commonwealth’s economic recovery with a strong minimum wage. “My legislation is about providing economic justice to those hardworking people who are playing by the rules and going to work every day – sometimes to more than one minimum wage job – but who still are struggling to make ends meet. It also bolsters business by putting more purchasing power into the hands of individuals who must buy things in order to provide for their families.”
According to research conducted by the non-partisan Massachusetts Budget & Policy Center, a full-time worker in Massachusetts making the current minimum wage will earn just $16,000 per year. Housing and child care costs easily top this figure, let alone other basic needs.
“It’s just not possible for me to support myself and my children on this income,” said Melanie Brown, a mother of three who earns close to minimum wage despite having two degrees. “It’s a daily struggle to make ends meet – low-wage workers are long overdue for relief.”
If legislative leaders do not act on pending earned sick time and minimum wage legislation by the August 7 deadline, final language for the ballot questions will be submitted to the Massachusetts Attorney General for approval. On September 18, the Secretary of the Commonwealth will provide official petition forms to be signed by 200,000 supporters – allowing the measure to be taken directly to Bay State voters on the November 2014 ballot. Massachusetts would be the first state in the country to secure earned sick through a ballot initiative.