Activists Seek To Humanize Minimum Wage Debate

Mar 5, 2014

President Obama spoke in Connecticut today as part of his campaign to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10.  Activists in Massachusetts are pushing for an even higher minimum wage.

To build the case for raising the Massachusetts minimum wage, activists have launched an effort to collect first-person accounts from low- wage workers.  Kitty Callaghan of Living Wage Western Mass said the Minimum Wage Story Project will provide a prospective that has been missing from the debate over the minimum wage.

" There's people who don't have money right now to pay for heat. People with wages that low often can't pay their rent. We think the public should know how challenging it is for people with low wages to make ends meet."

The current state minimum wage is $8 an hour.  A bill passed by the State Senate and pending in the House would raise it in three phases to $11 an hour by 2016.

"We have not changed the minimum wage for the past five years. That is why people are struggling so much, they have not had a raise in five years."

 Callaghan has put out a call for volunteers for the Minimum Wage Story Project – people earning below $9.50 an hour who are willing to be interviewed – to contact her through the website  The story project participants can choose to be anonymous.

" We don't what to make people feel uncomfortable or feel that their job is at risk for telling these stories."

The individual stories will be assembled and the plan is to present the accounts of the low- wage workers at a meeting with state legislators in early April.

Living Wage Western Mass has more than two dozen member organizations including the Hampshire/Franklin Central Labor Council, Northampton Democratic Committee, Massachusetts Councils on Aging, and Valley Community Development Corporation.

Opposition to the bill to raise the state minimum wage to $11 an hour has come from business groups that argue it would put Massachusetts at a competitive disadvantage.  Jeff  Ciuffreda, president of the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield, said a survey of members found support for raising the minimum wage by 5 percent a year over the next three years, which would bring it to $9.28.

"There is a case to be made that it ought to be increased, but it needs to be carefully considered as to what level and we think that is a fair level to bring it to."

Ciuffreda said 80 percent of the survey respondents said raising the minimum wage to $11 an hour would trigger such steps as layoffs, a hiring freeze, or a reduction in employee benefits.

"There are  some real negative affects that  raising it to too high a level would have on the economy."

If the legislature fails to act on the bill to raise the state minimum wage to $11 an hour by 2016, activists are prepared to collect petition signatures to put a referendum on the November ballot.

The president was joined by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, a close ally, at the Connecticut event.