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Press Release: Kennedy Calls for Ending the Sub-Minimum Wage Nationwide, MA Legislators File One Fair Wage Act on Beacon Hill

Fri, 02/15/2019

Tara Smith, Communications Director
Office of Sen. Pat Jehlen
Kennedy Calls for Ending the Sub-Minimum Wage Nationwide, MA Legislators File One Fair Wage Act on Beacon Hill
BOSTON — On Wednesday, Senator Patricia Jehlen (D-Somerville) and Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier (D-Pittsfield) joined Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) Boston, tipped workers, and legislative allies for a State House press conference to call for the elimination of the sub-minimum wage in Massachusetts, where the current rate for tipped workers is $4.35 an hour. The coalition highlighted the significance of ROC United’s National Day of Action happening on 2/13, pointing to the fact that the federal minimum wage for tipped workers is still just $2.13 an hour, a rate that hasn’t changed in nearly 40 years.
“Tiered worker protections are a hallmark of deeply unequal economies. A living wage should not be conditional based on the career you choose,” said Congressman Joe Kennedy (D-MA). “In a Commonwealth that prides itself on progress and a tireless work ethic, it is time that we address these systemic inequities that plague too many of our communities.”
This year, legislation to require that all workers be paid the full minimum wage has been filed in 15 states and in Congress. The Massachusetts bill, titled “An Act Requiring One Fair Wage” (SD.1398/HD.2659), would raise the minimum wage for tipped workers incrementally over several years to $13.95, and then in 2028 require that all workers be paid the full minimum wage under the minimum wage law.
“There are thousands of food service workers in Massachusetts who struggle to make ends meet for themselves and their families because they are living off tips. And if you’re dependent on tips, you depend on your manager for good shifts, you depend on cooks and other staff members to help you do your job, and you depend on customers’ whims,” said Senator Jehlen. “The sub-minimum wage creates too many opportunities that can be exploited by predators. This needs to end.”
“The women who put food on our tables cannot afford to put food on their own family’s tables,” said Representative Farley-Bouvier. “This is an issue that disproportionately affects women, as well as people of color and immigrants.”
In Massachusetts, nearly 70 percent of tipped workers are women, but they earn only 70 percent of the wages their male counterparts make. For African American female servers, the disparity is even greater: they earn only 60 percent of what male servers overall are paid, costing them more than $400,000 over a lifetime.
Workers from the service industry who joined the press conference shared personal stories about economic instability, discrimination, and their own #MeToo experiences in the workplace. 
“Wearing lipstick or not wearing lipstick should not determine our wages. Having short hair, long hair, or no hair should not determine our wages. The color of a woman’s skin should not be the factor in earning a livable wage versus a unlivable wage. Someone not liking the way you look should never determine what you go home with in wages. Point blank: being a woman should not play a factor in whether or not we can afford to thrive independently or provide for our families,” said server Emma Ruff at the press event.
“I have quickly learned that upsetting customers isn’t worth it. It’s sad to say that I’d rather be catcalled than to lose tips,” said Marie Billiel, a tipped food service worker. “When faced with the threat of eviction, what choice is there?”
To date, according to a recent ROC United study, the seven states—Alaska, California, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington—that ended the tipped sub-minimum wage policy, workers have higher wages and lower rates of harassment and poverty.
The Massachusetts bills have broad, bipartisan support from legislators, with a current total of 40 co-sponsors, including Representatives Mike Connolly (D-Cambridge), Denise Provost (D-Somerville), and Maria Robinson (D-Framingham), who also attended the press conference.
The legislation also has organizational support from the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women, MassEquity, PHENOM: Public Higher Education Network of MA, MassNow, Asian American Resource Workshop, Interfaith Worker Justice, MA Jobs with Justice, City Life/Vida Urbana, Ujima Project, Right to the City, Democratic Socialists of America, SouthEast Asian Worker Center, Boston Jobs Coalition, among others.
Senator Jehlen was appointed the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce development for the 2019-2020 legislative session, the committee that will consider this issue and many others affecting income inequality.