Nearly 300 people gathered to spread a message to their legislators demanding job-protected paid leave and a $15 minimum wage at Boston’s St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral Tuesday night.
The community briefing was hosted by Raise Up Massachusetts as a part of the organization’s statewide tour urging for the passage of the Fair Share Amendment, also known as the millionaire’s tax, according to a press release from the coalition. Additionally, the event rallied behind proposed legislation regarding paid family and medical leave.
Andrew Farnitano, the spokesperson for Raise Up MA, said 87 percent of workers in New England don’t have access to paid family and medical leave, which is why these pieces of legislation are necessary.
“Every month, workers are giving up their paycheck to take parental leave, leaving a seriously ill parent at home alone because they need to work to afford their medical care and making countless other sacrifices in an attempt to juggle their job and their family,” Farnitano said in an interview. “Massachusetts families can’t afford to wait any longer for paid leave.”
Members of community organizations addressed the issue to the audience and to a panel of Boston-area representatives in order to convince them to support the passage of the bills.
Jacob Kramer, 33, of Somerville, said he supports these pieces of legislation because it will help those in tough economic situations throughout the state.
“Economic justice is fundamental and we need to actually act to support the most vulnerable people in our Commonwealth,” Kramer said in an interview. “We heard stories tonight of people who are barely getting by and working their asses off to support their families through really tough times while other people in the state are riding high.”
The Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program for Massachusetts workers would provide up to either 12 or 16 weeks of job-protected paid leave given conditions that require the family’s attention. Consequently, the $15 minimum wage legislation would raise the current minimum wage of $11 an hour by $1 each year over four years.
Kathryn Anderson, 38, of Cambridge, said in an interview she’s unsure how the State House will act in 2018 with regard to these bills.
“I wish our representatives were more in line with where their constituents are because that’s what representatives are here to do,” Anderson said. “Significant deep community organizing, like we saw here with people sharing their stories, shows how passing this legislation would positively impact their lives.”
Legislators were called upon to be transparent about their stance on paid leave by those at the meeting. The lawmakers unanimously answered in support of paid leave and promised to contact the Senate president to push forward the bill.
Rep. Jonathan Hecht said during the meeting that he intends to respect his constituents’ demands.
“Our economy should not be built on the backs of people who did not get paid a living wage,” Hecht said. “We must sustain families and a strong economy and … make sure that [this happens] when everybody is working hard, getting paid a living wage and can support their families with dignity.”
Hecht said this undertaking is one which will use the people as its main motivator.
“This is grassroots politics at its best,” Hecht said. “It is my fond hope that 2018 is the year we see both of these bills and the tax amendment pass into Massachusetts legislation.”
Raise Up MA members and supporters counteracted the idea that teenagers should be exempt from the rise in minimum wage during the meeting.
Michael Kanter, the co-founder of Cambridge Naturals, a retail health store, said he is against the idea of a lower minimum wage for teenagers.
“Many teenagers work to take care of their families, save up for college,” Kanter said. “It would be a perverse incentive to hire teenagers at a lower minimum wage than adults.”
In Boston, the wages for 110,448 workers would rise if the minimum wage is increased to $15 an hour, according to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center. Nearly all Massachusetts workers would be eligible for paid family and medical leave under Raise Up MA’s proposal, according to the release.
Nika Elugardo, 44, a candidate for state representative this year, said it is vital that Massachusetts legislators back these problems.
“I have been [supporting these issues] for two decades,” Elugardo said. “I think it’s a travesty that these bills aren’t already in motion. In a civilized country, in a wealthy country, if we can’t support our people, that’s problematic.”