Pioneer Valley Workers Rally in Boston for $15 Minimum Wage

Julia Xia '19Contributing Writer

The Pioneer Valley Workers Center, Massachusetts Jobs with Justice, Northampton community members and the Raise Up Mass Coalition rallied outside the State House in Boston where the state legislators convened last Tuesday.

The legislators discussed bills proposed by the Fight for $15 campaign that would raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour across the state. These bills also aim to raise the tipped minimum wage from its current $3 per hour in Massachusetts, make sure that employees receive their work schedules well in advance and protect the rights of pregnant workers.

The Pioneer Valley Workers Center has played a major role in mobilizing low-wage and immigrant workers in the area in just one year of existence.

“We need to put more money into the hands of workers, so they have more buying power. Wage has continued to stagnate. How can we justify letting workers only make under $19,000 a year to support themselves?” said Rose Bookbinder, a coordinator at the Workers Center. “When anyone is oppressed or not being treated with the dignity they deserve, that affects us all.”

Gretchen Ravenhurst, a server at Hotel Northampton’s restaurant, and Peter Simpson, owner of Haymarket Cafe in Northampton, spoke at the rally on Tuesday. Both participated in a panel discussion for the Labor and Workforce joint committee.

“The mentality that serving is not a career, and serving is a temporary job” is a major obstacle for many workers in the food service industry, said Ravenhurst.

Peter Simpson recently eliminated tipping at Haymarket Cafe in favor of paying higher wages to his employees.  In November, starting wages at the cafe will rise to $14 per hour and are set to reach $17 per hour by 2018.

In a statement by the Pioneer Valley Workers Center prior to the rally on Tuesday, Ravenhurst said, “Walking away from a 10 to 11 hour shift with a $6 total average hourly is humiliating.”

Many supporters consider the current federal minimum wage at $7.25 per hour to be “starvation pay” and demand a living wage. According to the National Employment Law Project, more than 50 percent of workers make less than $15 per hour in the food preparation and service industries.

Massachusetts policymakers are still in the process of deliberating on the Fight for $15 bills, which include legislation establishing wages for workers at retail stores and fast food chains, and tipped worker’s wage and state living wages.

Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced a bill in July that would increase the national minimum wage to $15 an hour. New York City, Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco are in the process of raising the citywide minimum wage to $15 per hour within the next few years.

The wage increase would benefit employees in a variety of industries. A full-time worker earning $15 per hour would make around $31,000 per year.