Urge Rep. Pignatelli, Sen. Downing to ‘fight for $15’ minimum wage

In her letter to the editor, Samara Klein of Housatonic writes: “Fight for Fifteen -- no one who works full-time for a large, profitable corporation should be paid so little that they cannot make ends meet. “

To the Editor:

A full-time worker in Massachusetts earning minimum wage makes $18,720 a year – that’s working 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year. According to the Living Wage Calculator, this is just enough for one adult living in Berkshire County to attend to basic needs/expenses (i.e. food, medical, housing, transportation, taxes) and is not nearly enough for an adult with a child, which involves so many additional costs, not the least of which is child care.[1] In the fast-food industry – a large segment of minimum wage earners – 26 percent of workers are raising a child and more than two-thirds are the primary wage earners in their families.[2]

This gross underpayment results in many individuals juggling multiple jobs to piece together enough money to pay for food, rent, and their bills.[3] Overworked and underpaid, many working people have to turn to public assistance; more than half (56 percent) of all state and federal spending on public assistance programs goes to working families.[4] In other words, while the average fast-food CEO made $23.8 million in 2013 and while the fast-food industry took in $551 billion in global revenues last year, taxpayer dollars are filling the gap between minimum wage and basic needs.[5]

In January, the minimum wage in Massachusetts increased to $9/hour, with a planned incremental increase to $11/hour in 2018. It’s something, but it’s not nearly enough. There is currently a state bill (Bill H. 1773,Act to establish a living wage for employees of big box retail stores and fast food chains) that has been referred to the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development to establish a living wage for employees of big box retail stores and fast food chains. The bill applies to large corporations with 200 or more employees and proposes a phased increase over three years: $12/hour in 2016, $13.50/hour in 2017, and $15/hour in 2018.

On Tuesday, May 19, L.A. voted to increase its minimum wage to $15/hour by 2020.[6] On Wednesday, May 20, the first public meeting was held of a Wage Board impaneled by New York Governor Cuomo to look into raising wages for the state’s fast-food workers. (“Under New York law, a Wage Board has the power to propose a raise for any occupation where pay is judged to be too low to support the health or ‘adequate maintenance’ of its workers. The state labor commissioner can then order the raise without legislative approval.”[7]) Also on Wednesday, May 20, a movement known as the Fight for $15 marched to McDonald’s headquarters the day before McDonald’s annual shareholders’ meeting to demand fair pay.[8] Change for a more equitable society is underfoot.

Many Massachusetts representatives are co-sponsors of Bill H. 1773, An act to establish a living wage for employees of big box retail stores and fast food chains, including Representative Paul W. Mark of Second Berkshire and Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Third Berkshire. Neither Representative William Smitty Pignatelli of Fourth Berkshire nor Senator Benjamin B. Downing is a co-sponsor of this bill. I wrote Representative Pignatelli twice in the past month and a half, asking what his position on the bill is, but never heard back. I also wrote Senator Downing whose legislative aid, Christopher Dunne, informed me that, “declining co-sponsorship cannot be equated with a no vote and that Senator Downing frequently waits officially weigh-in on legislation until it comes before the full chamber.” He further informed me that my testimony would be kept on file and my comments taken into account should the legislation come before the full Senate. Despite an informative and friendly continued correspondence, I still do not know what Senator Downing’s position on this bill is.

If you want to live in a more equitable society where hard working people truly earn a living wage, please write Representative Pignatelli and Senator Downing urging them to co-sponsor Bill H. 1773, An Act to establish a living wage for employees of big box retail stores and fast food chains. My hope is that they will listen to us, their constituents, and that this bill will pave the way for an increase in wages in many other industries where hard-working individuals are not paid what they are owed and what they need. –


Samara Q. Klein




[1] Living Wage Calculator

[2] New York Times, Op-Ed, Andrew M. Cuomo: Fast-Food Workers Deserve a Raise

[3] Boston Globe, For those juggling multiple jobs, the work week never ends

[4] University of California, Berkley, Center for Labor Research and Education,

The High Public Cost of Low Wages

[5] New York Times, Op-Ed, Andrew M. Cuomo: Fast-Food Workers Deserve a Raise

[6] New York Times, Los Angeles Raises Minimum Wage to $15 an Hour

[7] New York Times, The Opinion Pages, New York Can Lead the Way to Higher Pay by The Editorial Board

[8] Chicago Tribune, McDonald’s Oak Brook headquarters swarmed with wage protestors