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Demonstrators calling for $15 wage block downtown traffic with sit-in demonstration

Poor People’s Campaign teams up with Raise Up

Saphia Suarez
Demonstrators calling for $15 wage block downtown traffic with sit-in demonstration
Labor demonstrators join forces with the Poor People’s Campaign at the State House Monday. photo: Saphia Suarez

On Monday, the Poor People’s Campaign and Raise Up Massachusetts held a rally in front of the State House to demand that legislators vote on and pass a $15 minimum wage and paid family medical leave act before the legislative session ends this month.

The June 11 rally was part of Raise Up Massachusetts’s Week of Action to raise the minimum wage for all workers, including tipped employees. This action was also part of the Poor People’s Campaign’s six-week season of nonviolent direct action against poverty, racism and other social issues. For the past four weeks, Poor People’s Campaign chapters around the country have been protesting at their state capitols.

Demonstrators with Raise Up Massachusetts and the Poor People’s Campaign march through downtown Boston. photo: Saphia Suarez

Demonstrators with Raise Up Massachusetts and the Poor People’s Campaign march through downtown Boston. photo: Saphia Suarez

As the campaign came to the Massachusetts State House Monday, it was accompanied by Raise Up Massachusetts, SEIU, personal care attendants and fast food workers, as well as a growing crowd that congregated near the State House steps. Representatives from these work sectors spoke on how low wages and unpaid sick leave affects them.

“I have two kids of my own, and I know what it’s like to struggle,” said Paris Wilson, a cook at a fast food restaurant. “I watched my mother struggle as a single mother raising me and my sister, so I don’t want my kids to have to go through that. I want them to have a better future, to have more than I had growing up.”

But Wilson is hopeful about the work that Raise Up and the Poor People’s Campaign are doing.

“I feel like I have a whole big family I’m fighting with now, and we’re all in this for the same reason. I’m not fighting alone,” Wilson said.

A crowd of approximately 300 people marched through downtown, chanting “We work, we sweat, put 15 on our check” and rallied briefly outside the office of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, before sitting down on Franklin Street at Post Office Square, tying up traffic in the downtown area. The demonstrators left at 8 p.m. None were arrested.

Long fight for wages

Raise Up Massachusetts and the Retailers Association of Massachusetts have been negotiating with legislators for the last six months, trying to reach a compromise on a higher minimum wage and paid family medical leave. The Retailers Association, which is advancing a ballot question that would lower the state sales tax from its current 6.25 percent to 5 percent, is opposed to the millionaire’s tax being proposed by Raise Up, the $15 minimum wage and paid leave.

A spokesman for Raise Up expressed optimism that the negotiations would be fruitful.

“We’re optimistic that we can reach an agreement with some of the business groups that we’ve been working with on [paid family medical leave],” said Andrew Farnitano.

However, negotiations with the Retailers Association of Massachusetts have not gone as well.

“It’s clear that we cannot accept the offer that the retailers association is making,” Farnitano said. “They are saying that they will only withdraw their ballot question and reach a deal if we do things that hurt workers, like a sub-minimum wage for teen workers, and the repeal of Sunday time-and-a-half pay. That’s unacceptable to our coalition — we’re not willing to accept anything that would put workers backwards or leave struggling families behind, so we’re calling on the legislature to move forward on their own and pass the [$15] minimum wage that lifts up all workers.”

Four years ago, a similar ballot question to increase the minimum wage nearly made it to a vote. However, legislators negotiated with labor activists and business groups to reach a compromise, so both parties were able to retain control over the policy. Farnitano was hopeful that the negotiations would see a similar outcome. However, time is running out. The legislative session ends in a little over two weeks, leaving only 10 business days for the Senate and House to bring these bills to a vote.