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Hundreds march to the State House in support of $15/hr wage legislation

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Hundreds of low-wage workers and supporters of the growing Fight for $15 movement marched today towards the Massachusetts State House in support of a legislative package that could raise the minimum wage to $15/hr wage for fast-food, home care, and large retail store employees, as well as codify fair scheduling practices and raise the wages of tipped workers.

“New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Wage Board heard the voices of the fast-food workers and now it’s time for Massachusetts to raise the wage for low-wage workers,” said Erica Betancourt, Dunkin Donuts worker. “Earning $9.00 an hour, trying to take care of my family just is not making it. Today’s hearing is the first step to winning $15 an hour in Massachusetts and we won’t stop until it happens.”

Ignited by the decision of the fast-food Wage Board in New York to raise the hourly wage for 200,000 cooks and cashiers across the state, workers from across Massachusetts convened at the State House to listen to fast-food, retail, airport, and tipped workers testify before the Committee on Economic and Work Force Development in support of the $15 minimum wage package.

Among those supporting the bills was Kheila Cox, who works at Logan Airport as a baggage handler. For a 38-year-old mom, a living wage is critical: “I have a daughter that’s going to Lesley University and I almost passed out when she told me what it costs. It’s good news and bad news. I’m just trying to do this for my kids and it’s not easy.”

Once considered a long shot, $15 is now a reality in cities like Seattle, SeaTac, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Fast-food workers in New York recently won $15, and it is the minimum pay at leading companies like Facebook and Aetna. Noting how the Fight for $15 has changed the politics of the country, The New York Times declared that “$15 could become the new, de facto $7.25,” and The Washington Post said $15 has “gone from almost absurdly ambitious to mainstream in the span of a few years.”

According to a recent report from the National Employment Law Project, wages have stagnated for America’s workers across the board, but those in lower-paying jobs are being hit the hardest and low-wage occupations saw the biggest drop in real wages during the recovery. Among the 10-largest occupations in the bottom fifth, declines were most pronounced for occupations in the restaurant sector: food preparation workers and cooks saw wage declines of 7.7 percent and 8.9 percent. Janitors and cleaners, personal care aides, home health aides, and maids and housekeeping cleaners also experienced steep declines.

“It’s unconscionable when caregivers, airport workers, fast food workers, or janitors are working full time but still having to choose between paying rent and buying groceries due to low wages,” said Veronica Turner, Executive Vice President for 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. “We’re proud that our 35,000 personal care attendants secured a path to $15/hour, but there are thousands of caregivers working for homecare agencies who can’t afford basic needs because of poverty wages. Wage inequality is a public health crisis and we will fight for all workers to be able to earn enough money to take care of themselves and their families.”