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Could a $15 minimum wage come to Cambridge?

Massachusetts’s towns have never set their own wage levels.

Massachusetts’s minimum wage is currently $9 per hour. AP

Low-wage workers around the country have been fighting for a $15 minimum wage for over three years now, with notable results in major U.S. metropolises like Seattle and San Francisco. Now, some local lawmakers are wondering whether it’s time for Cambridge to join the ranks of progressive municipalities setting their own pay floor – an unprecedented move in Massachusetts.

The 2015 Cambridge Municipal Election this week brings the issue to the foreground, with some candidates up for re-election affiliating themselves with the $15 minimum wage issue. WBUR points out that city councilors like Nadeem Mazen and Dennis Benzan, for example, have been urging workers to advocate for legislation that would authorize municipal increases of the minimum wage.

Massachusetts’s minimum wage is currently $9 per hour, and it’s set to rise to $11 an hour by 2017, making it the highest state minimum wage in the country. But many workers say that pay does not cover the cost of living in expensive areas like Greater Boston, which is why some Cambridge city councilors think they should spearhead the effort for better minimum wages. There’s one small problem, though: Under Massachusetts Constitution, it’s unclear whether a minimum wage ordinance lies within a city’s authority, so a new bill proposed by state Sen. Dan Wolf would have to be passed before municipalities could increase their minimum wages.

The bill is being supported by Mazen and Benzan.

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Minimum wage is not a new issue for Greater Boston. Thousands of fast food workers, adjunct professors, construction workers, and healthcare employees have joined the “Fight for $15’’ campaign, which advocates in Boston and around the U.S. for $15-per-hour wages for low-income workers.

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The push is not without its critics, however.

Employers say if the minimum wage is raised, they will face higher labor costs, forcing them to lay off workers, cut benefits, or raise their prices. Some restaurants say they’d even have to shut their doors. But for about 9 percent of the state’s workforce – roughly 280,000 workers – Cambridge raising its minimum wage might be a welcomed sign of their state’s progressiveness, and hope for the future of low- income workers in Greater Boston. You can read the full WBUR story here.

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