Workers rally at State House for minimum-wage hike to $15

Vaughn Goodwin of 1199SEIU spoke at a rally in support of raising the minimum wage to $15 front of the State House on Thursday, April 14. Brianne Garrett photo

A large crowd gathered at the State House last Thursday to urge lawmakers to follow New York and California and pass a bill that would increase the state’s minimum wage from $10 to $15.

Members of labor and coalition groups such as Raise up Massachusetts, Wage Action, and 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East united to bring a crowd of 2,000 advocates to Beacon Street, a much higher number than last year, according to Tyrek D. Lee Sr., executive vice president of 1199SEIU.

The rally “was a tremendous success and allows us to keep pushing forward,” said Lee. “We are keeping the momentum alive in the commonwealth to ensure that workers are paid decent wages with respect and dignity.” He emphasized that the most important outcome of the rally would be if legislators voted yes on bills pending in the Legislature that would move the state towards $15 wage floors for various groups, including airport workers and the employees of fast-food restaurants and big box retailers.

He said he is hopeful that legislators will “hear these voices for all workers of the commonwealth and do the right thing. It’s time to level the playing field. We realize that while we want a healthy community, and we also know that folks need to be able to have decent wages to provide for their families.”

His family’s welfare continues to be the primary motivation for Mackinley Celestin, 41, of Mattapan, who attended the event. Celestin said his four-year-old daughter often asks him why he is never home or able to take her to the park. Working as a security officer at three different locations, Celestin is living paycheck to paycheck. “I’m going on strike for myself and everybody – especially a mother or father or single parent – who’s working so hard and barely making ends meet,” Celestin said. “I’m tired of working for less and less and the employer never [appreciating] what we do.”

Darius Cephas, 25, of Dorchester was one of the workers who walked out from the McDonalds in Cambridge before marching at the main rally outside of the State House. Cephas joined the cause after his mother had a stroke and he had to take care of his home and family with a salary that he believes is not enough. “The simple fact is that workers need a livable wage to take care of their families, to take care of their homes, to take care of their bills,” he said.

After seeing the number of people who expressed support for the bill, Cephas said he is confident the rally will lead to a positive vote. “It’s not just fast-food workers saying it, it’s airport workers saying it, it’s childcare workers saying it, it’s home care workers saying it,” he said. “They could have stayed home but they came out because they know what they need for their families, they know what they need for their future children.”

Lew Finfer, a Dorchester resident and executive director of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network, said the state Senate will announce a date within the next week on when they might vote on the bill, which would then make its way to the House and, possibly, the governor. He called it “heartening” to see how the movement has grown since 2012.

“When fast-food workers first raised the issue of a $15 wage, people really laughed at it or thought we really need it but when will we ever get there,” Finfer said. “Now we have 10 million people in the country who have that and people making a serious, viable effort to try to get it in more places like Massachusetts.”

California and New York both recently passed laws setting out a pathway to a $15 hourly minimum wage. The Massachusetts minimum wage is set to rise to $11 an hour in January 2017, after it went to $10 last January. Gov. Baker has said he thinks Massachusetts should let the planned wage floor increase “play out” and use other approaches to combat income inequality before considering another hike. “There are a lot of elements to this discussion and certainly the minimum wage is one, but I think Massachusetts is pursuing what I would describe as a multi-faceted approach to this and that’s the right way to go,” Baker told reporters earlier this month.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo has said it would be “premature” to take on additional changes to the minimum wage. Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, however, has said the issue is under “very active discussion” in the Senate.

State House News Service contributed to this report.