Friedman fighting for $15 minimum wage bill

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September 25, 2017
The Lowell Sun

By J.D. Capelouto

Statehouse Correspondent

BOSTON -- Increasing the state's minimum wage to $15 per hour would give more than a million people across Massachusetts -- a third of all workers -- a pay increase, state Sen. Cindy Friedman told a legislative committee Tuesday.

Friedman, an Arlington Democrat whose district includes Billerica, Burlington, Woburn and parts of Lexington, testified before the Legislature's Committee on Labor and Workforce Development on behalf of a minimum wage bill originally sponsored by her predecessor, the late Sen. Kenneth Donnelly, who died in April from brain cancer.

Donnelly's bill, if passed, would increase the hourly minimum wage by $1 per hour every year, eventually reaching $15 by 2021. The bill would also increase the minimum wage for workers who receive tips outside of their hourly pay.

Friedman, formerly Donnelly's chief of staff, has continued to promote the minimum wage issue after winning a special election for his seat.

"Ensuring our workers are able to earn a living wage is good for our economy, good for our businesses and most importantly, it is the right thing to do for the hardworking residents of the commonwealth," Friedman told the committee in her prepared remarks.

The panel heard testimony from the public and other legislators on Donnelly's bill and several minimum wage-related proposals.


"I feel a sort of connection with (the bill) and I wanted to continue doing that work -- work that I started," Friedman told The Sun after the hearing.

"And I think it's time. I think this just part of a number of things that we need to do to ensure that people who work a 40-hour week are able to put food on the table, and a roof over their head."

The Merrimack Valley, especially Lowell and Lawrence, have a significant number of residents who would benefit from a higher minimum wage, due to the large quantity of service jobs, Friedman said.

"This would have a huge impact," she said. "You have so many workers that are now making $11 an hour."

A number of other local lawmakers, including Rep. James Miceli, D-Wilmington,, Sen. Michael Barrett, D-Lexington, and Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, signed onto the bill as supporters.

"If you work 40 hours a week, you ought to earn enough to support you and your family," Barrett said in a statement. "I support an increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour, which equates to just $30,000 a year."

Before the hearing, a coalition of organizations and activist groups held a news conference at the Statehouse in support of an increase. Workers, small business owners and other stakeholders spoke about why a $15 minimum wage would benefit them and Massachusetts as a whole.

Raise Up Massachusetts, which organized the event, is pushing for the legislation because the current $11 hourly wage is simply unfair for the state's workers, leaders said.

"No one who works full time trying to support their family trying to get ahead in life should be paid so little that they can't keep up with the basic costs of everyday life, much less do more -- save for college, buy a home," said Andrew Farnitano, a spokesman for Raise Up Massachusetts.

The group is also gathering signatures to put the issue up for a statewide vote on the 2018 ballot, if the legislation is not passed.

The coalition led the movement in 2014 to successfully bump the minimum wage to the current $11 per hour. At the time, it was the highest statewide minimum wage in the country.

Two other states -- New York and California -- as well as the District of Columbia have since passed laws gradually raising the minimum wage to $15 over several years.


Opponents of Donnelly's bill argue that increasing the minimum wage would impede job growth, since small businesses may not be able to hire as many people at the higher rate.

Some Greater Lowell business leaders are especially concerned that a $15 minimum wage would make Massachusetts businesses less competitive, compared to their neighbors across the nearby New Hampshire border, where the minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. 

"What we've heard from employers is that it's going to deter employers from expanding their businesses and increasing the workforce," said Melissa Fetterhoff, the president and CEO of the Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce, adding that they "certainly support everybody's opportunity for increased wages."

Increased job training for residents, though, is a more effective way for workers to make more per hour and grow the economy, she said.

"The feeling is that the businesses will have a hard time competing because the costs per employee are higher," Fetterhoff said.

Chris Carlozzi, the Massachusetts state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, called the potential minimum wage increase "irresponsible and prohibitive to job creation."

In a statement, he said the state should "not further hinder Main Street businesses with labor costs that will stymie growth."

Farnitano of Raise Up Massachuset`ts, however, said jobs have increased since the minimum wage was last raised, and local economies have benefited as a result.

Job loss because of a higher minimum wage was "never proved to be true," Farnitano said. "There's no reason to expect it would be different this time."

J.D. Capelouto writes for the Boston University Statehouse Program.



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