274,652 Signatures Collected for Two Ballot Questions
BOSTON – Workers, community members, faith leaders, and business supporters rallied today to celebrate the next step in the campaign to pass paid family medical leave and gradually raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022. Earlier today, members of the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition rallied in front of 1 Ashburton Place to submit signatures to the Secretary of State that will advance the coalition’s two ballot initiatives toward the 2018 ballot.
“Winning a $15/hour minimum wage and paid family and medical leave are two of the best gifts I can give to my family,” said Barbara Fisher, a Boston resident who makes the $11/hour minimum wage at D’Angelos. “We’re now one major step closer to a victory for working people here in Massachusetts. By collecting more than twice the required number of signatures for these questions, we’re sending a powerful message to our elected officials. It’s time for them to pass $15 and paid leave, because we’re prepared to take this debate straight to the voters.”
This fall, the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition of community organizations, religious groups, and labor unions collected a total of 274,652 signatures, all without using paid signature gathering companies. The coalition collected 139,055 signatures for a $15 minimum wage and 135,597 for paid family and medical leave, well beyond the required 64,750 signatures for each petition. This grassroots effort was made possible with the support and leadership of thousands of coalition members and unpaid volunteers across the Commonwealth, who spread the word of the campaign by hosting signature-gathering events statewide.
“Our community leaders and partners put an immense amount of time, energy and heart into these campaigns,” said Cindy Rowe, Executive Director of the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action. “They stood on street corners, showed up at supermarkets, farmers markets and community events, not because it was the easy thing to do, but because our Jewish values teach us to stand up for the rights of all working people. Not only did they put a herculean effort into surpassing our signature goals but they understood that by collecting one signature at a time, their work would have a lasting impact on millions of people of Massachusetts.”
Raise Up Massachusetts collected signatures in 2013 and 2014 on behalf of two ballot initiatives: raising the minimum wage and guaranteeing earned sick time for all Massachusetts workers. In June 2014, the Legislature passed and the governor signed legislation raising the minimum wage from $8 to $11 over three years. Raise Up Massachusetts then led the campaign to ensure access to earned sick time for all workers in the Commonwealth by passing Question 4 in November 2014.
“Winning earned sick time and the first increase in the state’s minimum wage since George W. Bush was in office was a huge win for working people in Massachusetts, and it wouldn’t have happened without dozens of community, faith, and labor groups joining together in one of the largest grassroots campaigns this state has ever seen,” said Joe Di Mauro, the Statewide Campaign Coordinator for Progressive Massachusetts. “Over the next eleven months, Raise Up Massachusetts will be aiming even higher as we mobilize tens of thousands of citizens across the Commonwealth to win paid leave, a $15 minimum wage, and the Fair Share Amendment in 2018.”
The Raise Up Massachusetts coalition is also behind the Fair Share Amendment, which would create an additional tax of four percentage points on the portion of a person’s annual income that is above $1 million. The Amendment would dedicate the new revenue generated by the tax, approximately $1.9 billion in 2019 dollars, to investments in transportation and public education. The Fair Share Amendment is already fully qualified for the 2018 ballot, because it is a constitutional amendment which followed a lengthier path to the ballot.
“Students understand the intersection of the struggles for living wages, affordable education and the security of being able to have paid leave if they need to help themselves or their families,” said Juan Pablo Blanco, a student organizer with the UMass Boston chapter of PHENOM, the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts. “This is why we’ve hit our campuses and our communities to get folks to sign on to these measures that benefit those who need it most. The Fair Share Amendment, $15 minimum wage, and paid leave are not separate struggles, but one movement to get what we need and deserve.”
“These initiatives support Massachusetts families and will improve the lives of countless students in our public schools, which is why MTA educators are joining the fight to raise the minimum wage and to make paid family and medical leave available to more workers,” said Barbara Madeloni, President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association.
Local supporters have been out every day for months, talking to voters in front of supermarkets, at youth sports games, outside MBTA, bus, and commuter rail stations, at religious congregations, on busy street corners, at community events—anywhere and everywhere as they collect signatures from their neighbors and community members. The coalition collected signatures in 346 of the Commonwealth’s 351 communities: everywhere from Gosnold (population: 75 people, 5 signatures collected) to Boston (population 673,184 people, 54,053 signatures collected).
“This is a tremendous step toward winning just wages by raising the minimum wage for nearly a million low wage earners, and toward winning health and security for millions with paid family and medical leave,” said Jack Livramento, Board President of Massachusetts Communities Action Network (MCAN). “Thousands of volunteers from community, religious and labor groups stood at train stops, in front of stores, and at religious services to have the conversations that led to 274,652 signatures. We’re well on our way towards winning much more justice and security for all.”
Now that signatures are collected, the Legislature has until the end of June 2018 to act on the issues. At that point, ballot question proponents must collect another 10,792 signatures to place the questions on the November 2018 ballot.
“This signature drive shows how powerful grassroots mobilization can be. We had many people in our communities express interest in seeing a $15 minimum wage and paid leave go on the ballot,” said Anabel Santiago, an organizer with the Coalition for Social Justice. “We have qualified both of our issues for the ballot and we couldn’t have done it with the support and work of our volunteers. Now that is the power of the grassroots!”
Paid Family and Medical Leave
Raise Up Massachusetts’ paid leave ballot question would create a Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program for Massachusetts workers, providing up to 16 weeks of job-protected paid leave to care for a seriously ill or injured family member, to care for a new child, or to meet family needs arising from a family member’s active duty military service (family leave); and up to 26 weeks of job-protected paid leave to recover from a worker’s own serious illness or injury (medical leave), or to care for a seriously ill or injured service member.
“With my father having terminal cancer, a permanently disabled sister, and a wife that wants to have children soon, I worry that my family might need me and that I won’t be able to get sufficient time off to help them out,” said Ian Tompkins, a Fall River resident who collected signatures. “With paid family and medical leave, I’d be able to take enough time out from work if something happens with my father or sister, or to help raise a child with my wife. Paid family and medical leave would give me and my family the reassurance that we will be safe and supported whether an unexpected emergency or an expected birth comes up.”
The question prohibits employer retaliation against workers who take time off under these conditions, and workers taking paid leave would receive insurance benefits equal to 90% of their average weekly wages, up to a maximum weekly benefit of $1,000. Benefits would be funded through employer contributions to the new Family and Medical Leave Trust Fund (0.63% of weekly wages), and employers could require employees to contribute up to 50% of the trust fund contributions.
“My native country of Uruguay has paid maternity leave, and mothers receive a percentage of their salary for the first three months of leave. But when my son was born here in Massachusetts, I went through my maternity leave without a cent of income and little information about how to survive without a salary,” said Carolina Sposito, an immigrant from Lowell who collected signatures with the Merrimack Valley Project. “With paid leave, new parents can keep building a bond with their baby and recover themselves, physically and mentally. I support the Raise Up campaigns because they stand for people like me who want to build a family with peace of mind.”
While the United States is the only developed nation that does not offer paid time off after the birth of a child, California, New York, Rhode Island, and New Jersey all have paid family and medical leave, and both workers and businesses report positive effects. Because employees on leave receive their benefits from a state trust fund, businesses can afford to hire temporary replacement workers with the money they would otherwise use to pay the employee taking leave. Six years after California’s law was implemented, 89 to 99 percent of employers reported that paid family and medical leave had either a “positive effect” or “no noticeable effect” on productivity, profitability/performance, turnover, and employee morale.
“I offer paid family leave at my bi-coastal PR firm InkHouse because when employees can take time off when they or a close family member is sick, or after the birth of a child, they’re healthier and more productive when they come back to work,” said Beth Monaghan, CEO and Co-Founder of Inkhouse. “As a mother and an employer, I know that paid family and medical leave is the right thing to do for the good of our community and for our bottom line. It costs 150 percent of an employee’s pay to replace her and a small fraction of that to support her on leave. We need women in the workplace – in fact, when they are present in leadership, companies perform better. My team is comprised of 85 percent women and too often, women carry the burden of care. These policies are important because they further the broader goal of leveling the playing field for women.”
$15 Minimum Wage
Raise Up Massachusetts’ $15 minimum wage ballot question would raise the Massachusetts minimum wage, currently $11 an hour, by $1 each year over four years until it is $15 an hour in 2022. The minimum wage would then be adjusted each year to rise at the same rate as the cost of living.
“As the minimum wage increased from $8 to $11 over the last three years, our economy grew, and people at all income levels saw their incomes rise. As workers’ wages rise, our economy benefits by creating a more productive, stable workforce and increased local spending,” said Tyrék D. Lee, Sr., Executive Vice President of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. “But at $11 an hour, full-time minimum wage earners make only $22,800 a year before taxes. It’s impossible to support a family and get ahead on that low pay. By raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, we’re taking an important next step towards an economy that works for everyone.”
Increasing the minimum wage to $15 by 2022 would raise the wages of roughly 943,000 workers, or 29 percent of the state’s workforce, according to a report by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center. 90 percent of workers who would be affected are 20 years old or older, 56 percent are women, and 55 percent work full-time. Workers who are paid low wages include professions like nursing assistants, childcare providers and paramedics.
“We increased our starting wage from $13 to $15 last December, and it’s been great for our business,” said Michael Kanter, Co-Owner of Cambridge Naturals and member of Business for a Fair Minimum Wage. “We’ve seen better customer service, lower employee turnover and increased sales. Customers appreciate our investment in employees. We’ll be opening a second store in 2018. Raising the minimum wage is an excellent investment in the people and businesses of our Commonwealth.”
Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, a network of business owners and executives who believe a fair minimum wage makes good business sense, has released a statement signed by more than 200 Massachusetts business owners and executives who support gradually raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021. Raise Up Massachusetts has also released a statement signed by 90 Massachusetts economists in support of the minimum wage increase.
The question would also raise the minimum wage for tipped employees, currently $3.75 an hour, over four years until it is 60% of the full minimum wage, or $9 an hour, in 2022. It would then rise at the same rate as the cost of living, along with the full minimum wage.
“It is absolutely critical we raised the tipped minimum wage. Because tipped workers’ wages are not paid by their employer, they are incredibly vulnerable to all kinds of exploitation and harassment,” said Marie Billiel, who was a tipped restaurant worker for 8 years and now manages a restaurant in Cambridge. “Women in particular are forced to endure sexual harassment from customers, managers, and coworkers alike, because not doing so could result in retaliation that could affect their income. Tipped workers deserve the dignity of being paid a real, livable wage by their employers. Being forced to live off the whims of customers so that our employers can save on costs and profit off our labor is archaic and unethical. We can do better.”
Thousands of volunteers from dozens of organizations across the state collected signatures for the two ballot questions.
“Raising the minimum wage and ensuring paid family and medical leave are necessary to lift up working families across the commonwealth. These are not just economic issues, but public health and social justice issues that impact all of us,” said Rebekah Gewirtz, Executive Director of the National Association of Social Workers – Massachusetts Chapter. “Social workers recognize that these two measures are critical to break the cyclical nature of poverty in our state and ensure families and vulnerable kids can thrive.”
“Right now, across Massachusetts, thousands of adults are enrolled in basic education programs to acquire the skills they need to be able to create a better life for themselves and their families,” said Jeff McLynch, Director of the Massachusetts Coalition for Adult Education (MCAE). “A $15 minimum wage and paid family and medical leave are precisely the kind of workplace policies they need to help achieve that goal. MCAE and its members were proud to contribute to the signature gathering effort and look forward to making further progress on these issues in 2018.”
“I was amazed and delighted at how much support there is for the Fight for 15 and Paid Family Medical Leave,” said Roxanne Mather, a Brockton resident who collected signatures. “It felt great to be part of the process of improving the lives of working families. Many people shared their stories with me of hardships endured due to the lack of paid leave. Some thanked me graciously for the work I was doing and one woman told me I was doing God’s work.”
Raise Up Massachusetts, a coalition of community organizations, religious groups, and labor unions committed to building an economy that works for all of us, collected signatures in 2013 and 2014 on behalf of two ballot initiatives: raising the minimum wage and guaranteeing earned sick time for all Massachusetts workers. In June 2014, the Legislature passed and the governor signed legislation giving Massachusetts the highest statewide minimum wage in the country. Raise Up Massachusetts then led the campaign to ensure access to earned sick time for all workers in the Commonwealth by passing Question 4 in November 2014. Now, Raise Up Massachusetts is working to create a paid family and medical leave program, raise the Massachusetts minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022, and pass the Fair Share Amendment to invest in transportation and public education with a tax on annual income above $1 million. Learn more at raiseupma.org.
Contact: Andrew Farnitano, Raise Up Massachusetts