With the hum of burrito preparation in the background, Senator Elizabeth Warren, joined by the US Senate’s number two Democrat, today pushed for a hike in the minimum wage, emphasizing the effort was supported by businesses, not just workers.
At a Boloco location on Congress Street near South Station, Warren and Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois held a discussion with a cross section of business leaders and low-wage earners.
“Nobody who works full-time should live in poverty,” Warren said.
John Pepper, Boloco’s co-founder and former CEO, said paying employees more than the minimum wage was “a no-brainer.” He said the hourly wage floor for workers in the company is $9 per hour, one dollar more than Massachusetts’ minimum wage. And he said he is a strong advocate of government increasing the level.
Warren lauded Pepper saying he built his business with workers who got paid a living wage.
“He was going to be there for his workers and he knew that if he did that his workers would be there for him – and they would be there for the burritos,” she said.
Boloco, a privately held company founded in 1997, has 22 locations, 16 of which are in Massachusetts.
The push to boost the minimum wage from its current federal level of $7.25 per hour has grown in intensity as the strain of economic populism, notably promulgated by Warren during her 2012 campaign, has become ascendant in the Democratic party.
President Obama, in his Jan. 28 State of the Union, called for Congress to pass legislation boosting the federal wage floor to $10.10 per hour. “Give America a raise,” he said.
Warren she supported the $10.10 per hour effort, an increase which would be phased in.
But it’s unclear if the current political climate in Washington is conducive to such a push.
Durbin, the senate majority whip, said he didn’t know if there was sufficient support to pass the bill in the chamber.
“We need at least five Republican Senators,” Durbin explained, but said he “can’t tell” if the votes would be there.
Among the low-wage earners who spoke at the event was Emmanuel Sebit, a 21-year-old baggage handler at Logan International Airport who moved to the United States from South Sudan a year ago.
He said despite working hard, he still relied on food stamps, and struggled to get by.
Also at the event was Steven A. Tolman, the head of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO.
“Ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, a job should be a way out of poverty, not another form of poverty,” he said.
Increasing the minimum wage has also been an issue at the state level in Massachusetts.
Late last year, the state Senate passed a bill that would incrementally increase it from $8 to $11 by the middle of 2016 and connect subsequent hikes to inflation.
That bill is awaiting action in the state House of Representatives. Speaker Robert A. DeLeo has called for tying a wage boost to reform of the unemployment insurance system. A wide swath of businesses in the state support changes to the system.
DeLeo has said he thinks the two items should be interconnected in order to both help the poor and keep a positive business climate in the state. But progressive activists have balked, pushing for an increase in the minimum wage not tied to other measures.
The state Senate this month passed a separate measure addressing unemployment insurance.
Warren said, in addition to a move on the federal level, she supported an increase in the state’s minimum wage, but did not specify by how much.