Almost half a million Massachusetts low-wage workers won a significant victory on June 26th, when Governor Deval Patrick signed a bill to raise the minimum wage in stages to $11 per hour in 2017, the highest minimum wage in the country. His signature was the culmination of a two-year campaign by thousands of labor and progressive activists, including Massachusetts Social Democrats, who gathered thousands of signatures on petitions to put a minimum wage question on the ballot. While the state legislature moved to forestall action on the minimum wage by the voters, it did not respond to the companion campaign for a paid sick leave proposal, which will be on the ballot in November. The activist coalition is gearing up for that fight.
As important as the new law is, it has several shortcomings:
First, it contains no provision for indexing the minimum wage.
Second, even $11 per hour will not raise a family of four above the totally inadequate poverty level of $23,492.
Third, as Massachusetts Social Democrats pointed out at the legislative hearing on the bill, given the higher rate of unemployment among low-wage workers, they cannot rely on getting a nearly sufficient annual income at the new minimum wage. A full employment program is an essential complement to an adequate minimum wage, MSD observed.
Much work remains to be done, starting with winning paid sick leave in November.