Raising the minimum wage isn’t for the purpose of helping workers to afford luxuries, it’s for the necessities, said acting Secretary of Labor Seth D. Harris during a town-hall style discussion with low-wage workers on Feb. 28 at a family service center in Boston.
“It’s not go-to-the movies money,” Harris told the two dozen or so attendees. “It’s put-food-on-the-table money.”
Harris asked the gathering workers at an Action for Boston Community Development’s Elm Hill Family Service Center in Roxbury how many of them had to choose between food or paying a bill.
Nearly every hand was raised.
Harris shared with the workers the president’s commitment to raise the federal minimum wage from its current rate of $7.25 per hour to $9 per hour by 2015.
“In Massachusetts, there’s already a higher wage of $8 [per hour],” he said. “The reason I am here, more than anything, is I want to hear from all of you about your needs.”
Part-time movie theater worker and mom Patricia Federico said she is tired of hearing the argument that minimum-wage workers are mostly teenagers looking for a disposable income.
“There is this misperception that minimum wage is basically for teenagers and college kids,” she said. “Most of the people that come in [for work] are not teenagers—and the teens or young adults that do work at the movie theater are actually chipping in to their family’s income to help support the household.”
Retail worker Melanie Brown was one of those who said she sometimes must choose between paying a bill or feeding her family.
“I want to be able to provide more for my children so that they can have a better life,” said the single mother. “It’s crippling me because I’m struggling with ‘either I’m going to feed my kids, or I’m going to pay my rent.’ ”
The event brought together low-wage workers with federal, state and community officials, including the state Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Joanne Goldstein, ABCD President John Drew, and an organizer for MassUniting, Darrin Howell.
Boston Mayor Tom Menino, although unable to attend the event, directed Bostonians to the event via his Twitter page: “Welcome to #Boston @ActingSecHarris. Follow @USDOL today at 3:30 to hear what #minimumwage increase would mean for Boston families.”
Goldstein told the workers that the state has been fighting for more money for low-wage workers to help their families keep up with the ever-rising cost of living.
“We are working across all state agencies to protect the minimum-wage workers,” she said, pointing to the governor’s task force against underground and misclassified workers to prevent employers from labeling actual employees as contractors or falsely as part-time workers, adding: “For those of you who work for temp agencies, we have a new law to protect you.”
Harris said that the debate to raise the minimum wage is greatly aided by workers who share their stories.
“Low-wage earners are some of the hardest-working people in this country,” he said. “Thank you for taking time off to come here today because, for working families, I know taking time off means money.”
—Andre J. Bowser
Regional Deputy Director for Public Affairs, U.S. Deptartment of Labor