by Gjergji Evangjeli
The Bishops of Massachusetts released a statement on March 19th that highlighted the necessity of the State legislature to carefully consider the struggles of workers who are earning minimum wage. This statement from the College of Bishops of Massachusetts comes at the same time that as many as three different pieces of legislation are being entertained by the State Government. The Senate recently passed a bill increasing the minimum wage to $11 by 2016 and another overhauling the unemployment insurance system. The House is introducing another piece of legislation that seeks to increase the minimum wage to $10.50 by 2016. House Speaker Robert DeLeo said on Thursday that he hopes the finalized House bill will take into consideration the increased burden that such a hike would take on business owners and argued that this measure could be passed only in conjunction with reform in the unemployment insurance sector and that he hoped to combine the two bills from the Senate into a single system.
As it sits now, the House bill would increase the minimum wage to $10.50 per hour by 2016 and tie it to the Consumer Price Index, which would increase the minimum wage by the same percentage as inflation every year. An added provision of the bill would be that the state minimum wage always be at least $0.50 higher than the national minimum wage. If this bill is approved, Massachusetts would be the state with the highest minimum wage, beating California, who passed a bill recently increasing their minimum wage to $10. There have, however, been talks about tabling the issue until January 2015, an idea that both Speaker DeLeo and the Catholic Bishops of Massachusetts seem to be against.
A third option would be to put the question of increasing minimum wage in the ballots for the November state elections. The labor-backed group Raise up Massachusetts is currently pushing for a measure to increase the state minimum wage to $10.50 by 2015 to be put in the ballots, which seems like a reaction to the current stagnation in the House floor in terms of progress over the passing of the bill.
The Catholic Bishops did not take a stance on how much the minimum wage should be increased or by when it should be done, rather admitting that they do not have the economic know-how to put forth such qualifications, choosing instead to adjure the proper experts to come to a fair and speedy decision on this matter. They also cautioned for a careful look at the effect that the hike in minimum wage would have on the small business owners who do not have the same means to cover for the increase in cost over the coming years.
Nonetheless, they stressed that the current minimum wage of $8.50 per hour is insufficient for most people to have sufficient means in today’s economy. They pointed out that “Insufficient compensation for labor violates the dignity of the worker and that worker’s family. A just wage supports the individual, families, and society as a whole.” They tied their message to Pope Francis’ words that economic policies should take the concern of human dignity and the common good as central.
The statement was signed by Archbishop O’Malley of Boston, Bishop Coleman of Fall River, Bishop McDonnell of Springfield, and Bishop McManus of Worchester.