Mass. Low Wage Workers to Demand Increased Pay in Protests Thursday

 Fast food workers, university professors, and cab drivers will stage a series of protests throughout the Boston area Thursday to demand increases to the minimum wage.
Fast food workers, university professors, and cab drivers will stage a series of protests throughout the Boston area Thursday to demand increases to the minimum wage.
Steven Senne/AP

Christopher Crosby returns home to a dark house every night. The lights are off and the appliances silent. He has not paid an electricity bill for months.

Crosby, a Boston native, works at Dunkin’ Donuts where where he earns $9 an hour, a salary that only barely exceeds the Massachusetts minimum wage. He spends his days mixing coffees and stocking donut displays, often, he says, under sweltering conditions during the dog days of Boston summers.

Though he works as much as he can every week, the constant worry that he may not be able to make ends meet lingers on.

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Crosby will be marching with a group of fast food workers, university professors, and cab drivers Thursday, demanding a higher salary for low wage workers throughout Massachusetts. The eclectic group has united behind a common goal—to close the widening gap between the wealthy and the middle class.

Organizers have dubbed June 12 a Day of Action, urging people from around Boston to descend on three locations in Boston, Worcester, and Springfield to stage a series of protests.

“This is a major step for workers in Boston who are advocating for improved wages and dignity at work,” says Jeff Hall, a spokesman for the Wage Action Coalition.

Protesters say they are rallying to support an increased minimum wage, among other goals. They hope to build on the momentum generated by a groundbreaking decision last week to up the minimum wage in Seattle to $15 per hour.

A native of Roxbury, Ashley Urguhart says she was inspired to protest on the Day of Action because she hopes to catalyze the momentum generated by the Seattle wage boost.

Urguhart, 19, works at a Dunkin’ Donuts and earns $8 per hour. Without financial help from her parents, she says she would be out on the street by the end of the first month.

Crosby, 23, also worries that he will not be able to pay for basic necessities. It is a constant fear, one that consumes every other impulse. He says that he would try to go back to school if he earned a higher wage, but for now, school remains unattainable as he devotes every ounce of energy to obtaining a livable wage.

Emmanuel Sebit echoed a similar story. He emigrated from South Sudan two years ago just as ethnic conflict began to escalate. Sebit, 21, now works at Logan Airport as a baggage handler—also making $8 per hour. He too will join the protests Thursday, and says a higher minimum wage would revolutionize his life.

The Day of Action comes as politicians have brought the minimum wage to the forefront of national debate leading up to the November midterms. President Barack Obama has called on Congress to raise the national minimum wage, which currently stands at $7.25, to $10.10.

The minimum wage for Massachusetts workers now stands at $8.00, although the state’s House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would push it to $10.50 over two years. The Senate had previously approved a different bill that would push the minimum wage to $11 over the course of three years and tie future increases to inflation. On Wednesday night, a conference committee reached a middle ground that calls for an increase to $11 by 2017 but does not tie future increases to inflation.

Although protesters hope to spur the state government to up the minimum wage, they also believe that private companies have the wherewithal to act independently to improve wages for their workers.

“There are many employers who can clearly afford to do more on their own in providing better jobs to community,” Hall says.

Organizers have chosen to single out several such wealthy corporations on June 12. While the Boston protest will occur in Copley Square, those in Worcester and Springfield will happen outside a Walmart and a McDonald’s respectively.

The protests follows a wave of national rallies targeting those companies.

“There has been increasing national pressure on companies who are purveyors on poverty wages,” Hall says.

Last month, police arrested 138 people protesting outside the Chicago corporate headquarters of McDonald’s, according to CNN. The horde of Chicago protesters had also called for an increased minimum wage.

But the Boston protests also stand apart from prior efforts to organize around minimum wage. According to Hall, June 12 marks the first protest in Massachusetts to mobilize people from across multiple industries behind the charge for a higher minimum wage. Boston had previously seen fast food protests, while adjunct professors in the region have been unionizing to demand better working conditions from area colleges and universities.

It stems from a growing awareness that workers from various industries face a series of common challenges as low wage employment threatens to edge out middle income jobs, Hall says.

“The prevalence of low wage work extends well beyond the industries and occupations that may typically be perceived as low wage,” Hall says. “The low wage work crisis and the crisis of wage inequality extends well into the health care and academic employment sectors.”