By Paul Drake
On Thursday, June 26, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts signed into law the new highest state minimum wage in the country of $11 per hour. Effective Jan. 1, 2015, it will raise the wage floor one dollar each year, reaching $11 in January 2017. This victory is the result of years of hard work from a state-wide coalition of faith, labor and community groups called Raise Up Massachusetts. This past fall and spring, we engaged in a historic grassroots ballot petition drive by gathering a record number of signatures to put a real minimum wage raise on the Massachusetts ballot this year if the legislature did not produce a serious bill.
Faith communities were at the center of this push, contributing a full third of the signatures gathered. Massachusetts IWJ staff and volunteers used our Labor in the Pulpits program to visit a different congregation each week, to talk about the campaign and offer congregants the chance to sign the petitions. Congregants loved it. They could make a real contribution before even leaving their congregation's walls, but also engage more in the campaign as able. People's participation in the signature drive fostered a sense of ownership in the bill and confidence in the public will behind them, both of which became critical during the legislative phase in advocacy efforts to preserve the integrity of the bill.
And to the best of our ability that is what we did. Together with other coalition members, people of faith successfully helped fight off pushes by corporate lobbyists for a sub-minimum wage for teenagers as well as seriously diminished access to unemployment insurance as part of a package. Sadly, due to fierce pressure from restaurant associations, the final bill included only a paltry raise for tipped workers, and did not include the measure indexing the minimum wage to inflation.
Our coalition mourns the loss of these important features. But in return, we won a higher dollar raise than our ballot question, and more than 500,000 Massachusetts workers will see a raise (a full fifth of our workforce) which will impact more than 230,000 children. Most importantly, people of faith and our coalition as a whole are empowered with the clear-minded expectation of more to come. Now we know we can Raise Up Massachusetts together.