For the last eleven months, I’ve been honored to work with my colleagues in the House of Representatives, members of the labor community, employers and working families throughout the Commonwealth to develop a bill that raises the minimum wage in Massachusetts to the highest level in the country. I’m proud to say that later this afternoon, we will introduce a bill that does just that—raises the minimum wage to $10.50 by 2016, increases the wage for tipped workers, and expands the Earned Income Tax Credit, which together provide much needed help to nearly 500,000 working families throughout the Commonwealth. Within a few weeks this bill will be debated on the House floor, and I’m confident that it will pass with broad support.
We’ve come a long way in the last year, and have succeeded in fundamentally changing the dialog around increasing the minimum wage. Reaching this point was not easy—writing legislation that affects tens of thousands of people rarely is—but I’m proud to be a part of the team that produced this legislation. All of the time and energy will make a difference for the single mom working two jobs who currently must choose between food for her family or paying the electric bill; for the dad who is losing precious sleep wondering how to provide for his growing family; and for the teenager working a part-time job whose paychecks are going straight to the college fund.
Together we comprise the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, anchored by the fundamental belief that every citizen should enjoy the opportunity to succeed and build a better life. This bill takes an important first step in restoring the promise of the Commonwealth, and not just by raising the minimum wage. The legislation also:
- Increases the Earned Income Tax Credit from 15 to 20 percent, which will put more money into the pockets of Massachusetts’ lowest wage workers, thereby making it easier to escape the clutches of poverty;
- Increases the tipped minimum wage for restaurant workers for the first time since 1999;
- Increases the statute of limitations for minimum wage, overtime and record keeping violations to three years, giving both the workers and the Attorney General’s office more time to file and investigate wage and hour compliance violations; and,
- Restores overtime pay for hospitality and farm workers.
If you’ve been involved in this conversation to date—and thankfully, thousands of you have—you’ll probably notice that the current bill lacks an indexing provision, which has been an important topic for many advocates of the minimum wage increase. Let me be clear: indexing the minimum wage to account for future rises in the cost of living would have many positive benefits, and is included in the Senate’s version of the bill. However, my central objective in leading this legislation was to ensure that we achieve as many positive changes for working class families as possible, while also developing a bill that would actually pass in the House. After months of conversations, it was clear to me that a bill with indexing would face opposition and put other important provisions of the bill at risk.
However, this is just the beginning of a larger conversation about the struggles that low-wage workers and working class families in the Commonwealth face each and every day. There are other critical issues that we need to address in the coming weeks and months, including unemployment insurance and paid sick leave. But raising the minimum wage is the critical first step. With the changes to our economy over the past 30 years – outsourcing, globalization, and the declining bargaining power between workers and employers – middle and working-class families have found it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. Our economy has evolved, and we’ve struggled to keep pace.
Today marks the first step towards reestablishing the ladder to the middle class that has been slipping out of reach for too many for far too long. But I know we need to do more. Raising the minimum wage to $10.50—or even $11—provides a crucial first step but alone is not enough. Our work is just beginning, but by passing this bill, we are taking a very significant step towards putting money
in the hands of hard-working men and women.
No one working full-time should live in poverty, forced to choose between necessities. In the coming weeks, I hope you’ll join the conversation about restoring the true promise of the Commonwealth, where every individual is provided with an equal opportunity to work hard, play by the rules, and build a better life for their family.
State Rep. Tom Conroy (D-Wayland) is House Chairman of the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development.