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Faces on the Frontlines

A Committed Fighter for $15

Workers in Massachusetts are agitating for a $15 statewide minimum wage, buoyed by ballot-box successes in other states and widespread in-state worker support.

Blogging Our Great Divide
December 01, 2016

by Josh Hoxie

The Great Hall at the Massachusetts State House in Boston had no room to sit — and barely room to stand — on a cold rainy Tuesday in late November. But the raucous crowd inside had plenty of room to shout and clap for a $15-an-hour minimum wage.

That prospect, once thought pie in the sky, now appears within reach. Raise Up Massachusetts, the same group responsible for passing the state’s last minimum wage increase and the driving force behind the campaign to pass a state millionaires tax in 2018, organized this Fight for 15 rally, and the group’s activists are brimming with Fight-for-15 confidence.

Voters in all four states with minimum wage initiatives on the ballot November 8 opted for higher wages. Raise Up Massachusetts is working to take the next spot in the victory line.

Workers in over 300 cities rallied in the Fight for $15 national day of action bringing out tens of thousands of people in support ready to take their fight to leaders at the state and local level.

Mariane Martin, a full-time personal care attendant, did her share of the cheering at last week’s Fight-for-15 rally. She drove over an hour from her home in New Bedford to attend.

Martin used to earn just $9 an hour, with little hope for advancement. She’s seen firsthand what union solidarity can achieve. An SEIU Local 1199 member since 2007, she now earns $14.12 an hour, and the union recently negotiated with the state for a $15 rate in 2017.

“My income is higher than it was, but it’s still not a living wage,” she noted at the Boston State House rally. “I’m here so everyone can get $15 and a union.”

According to the MIT Living Wage Calculator, the living wage for one adult with a child stands at $24.12 an hour where Martin lives.

Still earning at well short of that, Martin is struggling to make ends meet. She lives with her mother, sleeping on a living room couch as she tries to save up to get her own place. She needs a two-bedroom place for herself and her daughter, but the $900-a-month market rate and the cost of paying some rent and a security deposit upfront leave that two-bedroom out of reach.

“We’re not asking for much,” she assured. “Everyone deserves a living wage, enough to put a roof over their head, clothes on their back, and food in their stomachs. It’s not a handout, it’s a handup.”

As a personal care attendant, Martin takes care of disabled people in their homes. She ensures their most basic needs are met, everything from food and bathing to medications and medical appointments. In short, she helps people lead dignified lives.

Martin’s fight for higher wages sits rooted in that same spirit, the conviction that everyone should be able to work and live with dignity.

“I hope everyone out there sees what we’re fighting for and jumps on the bandwagon with us,” she urges. “There’s power in numbers.”

Josh Hoxie directs the Taxation and Opportunity Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. He’s the coauthor of the new IPS report Restoring Opportunity: Taxing Wealth to Fund Higher Education in California.

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