Commentary: North Shore low wage earners get some more respect

By Dulany Alexander

As someone who teaches dozens of minimum wage workers each year, I know that the start of 2019 heralds not only the promise of a new year, but also of new financial stability.

Last week 14,000 low-wage workers in Lynn and the surrounding area got a pay increase to $12 an hour, the first of five increases to bring wages to $15/hour by 2023.  

While not yet a living wage, this increase will make a real difference in the lives of the hard-working people in our city, who will now be more able to pay their bills and experience the dignity of a fairer wage.  

“I’m excited that the hard work the Fight for $15 workers put into this movement has finally paid off in Massachusetts,” said Teiarra Fennell, a Chipotle worker and activist with the Fight for $15 movement. “Everyone, not just fast food workers, understands that our economy is broken and that right now, working people can’t afford to pay rent or take care of our families. The minimum wage increasing gives workers a chance to create a better future for ourselves and our families.”

In 2017 and 2018, the Lynn-based Essex County Community Organization (ECCO) joined the Raise Up MA coalition of labor, faith, and community groups to collect more than 346,000 signatures to qualify Paid Family Medical Leave and $15 minimum wage questions for the ballot, all without using paid signature gathering companies.

In June, the Legislature responded by passing and the governor signed legislation that creates a paid family and medical leave program and raises the minimum wage to $15 over five years.

Roughly 88 percent of workers who are affected by this year’s raise are at least 20 years old, 58 percent are women, 52 percent work full-time. The increase will raise the wages of 29 percent of black/African American workers, 36 percent of Hispanic/Latino workers, and 18 percent of white workers in the state.

Eleven percent of workers benefiting from the increase are black/African American, 17 percent are Hispanic/Latino, and 65 percent are white. The increase will also raise the wages of roughly 15 percent of all working parents in Massachusetts, and more than 255,000 kids in the Commonwealth live in households with a working parent who would benefit from the increase.

“The minimum wage and paid leave laws are a significant win for workers in Massachusetts,” said Paris Wilson of Chelsea, a Shake Shack worker and activist with the Fight for $15 movement. “However, we cannot forget the thousands of workers in other states where the minimum wage is still well below the federal poverty line. We have to make sure that we continue to push America’s leaders and stand up for low-wage workers everywhere.”

Dulany Alexander is an ESOL instructor at North Shore Community College and a member of The New American Association of Massachusetts, the Essex County Community Organization and St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Marblehead.

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