Low-wage workers gathered at the State House to demand a $15/hr minimum wage.

Low-wage workers gathered at the State House.

Credit: Mike Deehan

Low-Wage Workers Demand $15-An-Hour Pay

April 14, 2016

The Massachusetts minimum wage went up one dollar at the beginning of this year and will rise again next year, but a coalition of low-wage workers were at the State House Thursday loudly making the case that that's not enough to make ends meet.

Workers from the fast food and health service industries numbering in the hundreds dropped off petitions for Gov. Baker and legislative leaders, chanting, chanting, chanting all the while.

Deanna Butler, 30, works at the Hyde Park Dunkin Donuts and came to the State House to argue for the $15 an hour wage for fast food workers.

"It's very hard. I get paid $10 dollars and hour. It's very hard and stressful to maintain a family of five on ten dollars an hour and I mainly make 15 hours a week. I just had to fight my boss basically for five days," butler said.

Butler's husband is disabled and watches their three children, but he can't work.

"If my child needs something, I have to make a sacrifice between paying my rent or putting clothes on my children's backs," she said.

The effort was part of a national day of demonstration buoyed by recent laws in California and New York agreeing to raise their minimum hourly wages to $15 over the next few year. Demonstrations were planned throughout the city Thursday, ending back at the State House for a major rally.

Massachusetts is already in the middle of raising its minimum wage. A law passed in 2013 raised the wage floor to $9 an hour last year and forced an increase of a dollar every year until it hits $11 an hour in 2017.

Employers and business groups against raising the wage say higher pay for workers would inevitably cause higher prices for consumers. Besides, they argue, Massachusetts already has one of the highest minimum wages in the country.

"I am unapologetic about the career lattice that the restaurant industry provides its employees, those opportunities are un-parallel to any other industry in America. Restaurants grow jobs, train workers and provide immediate opportunity for anybody that wants to work hard and apply themselves," Robert Luz from the Massachusetts Restaurant Association told WGBH News.

"The chain of Dunkin Donutses, they make money, you know, they make money. We have regular customers that come in Dunkin Donuts every single day. You can't tell me that they don't, so I don't honestly think it would affect them, no," Butler said.

There's disagreement between House and Senate leaders over whether it's time to pursue higher wages for low-income workers. Senate President Stan Rosenberg, according to his spokesman Peter Wilson, is in favor of a "living wage" that would support working families. Rosenberg is facilitating "ongoing conversations in the Senate about how to approach moving the conversation forward on this issue," Wilson told WGBH News. for his part, House Speaker Robert DeLeo has stated that it is too soon to increase the minimum wage for workers. DeLeo holds that the most recent increase to $11 doesn't take effect until next year.

The protesters were tightly organized by the Raise Up Coalition, the group behind the successful 2013 push for the wage bump. The protesters Thursday were so controlled, one organizer for the fast food workers, who refused to disclose her name, interrupted a reporter's interview with two 18 year old New Hampshire workers who were protesting in solidarity with their Massachusetts colleagues. The organizer told a reporter that the pair of workers were "not authorized" to be interviewed before more staff and local protesters stepped in.

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