Join Sen. Warren’s Fight for a Living Wage
The fight for economic and social justice is now focusing on reducing income inequality, and our own Senator Elizabeth Warren is leading the charge.
In her new book, “This Fight Is Our Fight,” the Senator talks about workers who hold down two or three jobs “just to stay afloat.” And she roundly condemns this form of economic injustice and inhumanity, saying, “No one in this country should work full-time and still live in poverty …. But at [the federal minimum wage of] $7.25 an hour, a mom working a 40-hour-a-week, minimum-wage job cannot keep herself and her baby above the poverty line. This is wrong—and this [is] something that the U.S. Congress could make better if we’d just raise the minimum wage. We could fix this now.”
Berkshire Democratic Brigades agrees. In fact, we’re working with Raise Up Massachusetts – a grassroots coalition of community organizations, religious groups, and labor unions – to increase our state’s minimum wage so that workers and their families in the Commonwealth enjoy something closer to a real “living wage,” one that raises workers out of poverty, rather than keeping them there.
Between now and mid-November, we will be gathering 120,000 signatures statewide for our ballot petition to let Massachusetts voters decide whether to raise the minimum wage from the current $11 per hour to $15 by 2022 – and up to $9 for tipped workers. Of course, Senator Warren was the first person to sign the petition. And like Elizabeth, we realize we cannot let the marketplace decide what constitutes a fair wage; government must intervene. As the late Paul Wellstone said, “We all do better, when we all do better.”
Indeed, as Warren points out, large national corporations like Walmart employ most of the low-wage workers in this country—the majority of them women and disproportionately people of color. The role of Walmart as a low-wage employer is particularly egregious but not unique. The seven Walton family owners have as much wealth as 130 million Americans combined, or 40% of the population. They could certainly afford to provide workers a living wage, but that is not the case. “Every year retailers and fast food outlets pay wages that are so low that the rest of America ponies up a collective $153 billion dollars to subsidize their workers, many of whom qualify for food stamps and other benefits,” says Warren,. “That’s enough to “make every public college tuition free and pay for pre-school for every child.”
Elizabeth knows how giant corporations are protecting the status quo: “They have deployed armies of lobbyists and lawyers to fight off any efforts to give workers a chance to organize or fight for a higher wage. Giant corporations have used their mouthpiece, the national Chamber of Commerce, to oppose any increase in the minimum wage ….” Here in Massachusetts we have to contend with the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, which uses secret – or “dark” – money to oppose a living wage.
Corporate lobbyists notwithstanding, many in the business community understand that a higher minimum wage is actually good for business since workers with decent wages have higher morale, are more productive and less prone to absenteeism and turnover. Higher wages put more money in circulation and create more jobs by allowing workers to purchase more of the goods and services that add to the economy. So raising the minimum wage benefits all of us, not just low-wage workers.
We Raise Up Massachusetts volunteers earned our stripes in 2014, when we succeeded in making Massachusetts the state with the highest minimum wage in the country. We did it by collecting over 200,000 signatures, and in response our legislators enacted into law a series of increases in the minimum wage that brought the Commonwealth’s 600,000 low-wage workers—including 12,000 in the greater Pittsfield area—up to $11 an hour in 2017. We will be victorious again in 2018, but it will take a lot of us to make it happen.
With your help in these next six weeks, Massachusetts can and will match what our counterparts all over the nation are doing to advance the fight for 15. Working together with Senator Elizabeth Warren, we will make this a nation where no one working full time lives in poverty. Join us. Please contact Berkshire Democratic Brigades at www.berkshirebrigades.com to volunteer.
Frank Farkas, Berkshire Democratic Brigades