By Alejandro Serrano, city editor
Hundreds of workers, including some that are part of 32BJ SEIU — the union that represents numerous Northeastern service employees — called on elected officials to raise the statewide minimum wage to $15 an hour and give workers union rights at a rally Tuesday inside the Massachusetts State House.
“We are here to stand up to those who want to dismantle the progress of working people,” said Tyrek Lee, executive vice president of healthcare union 1199SEIU, to the crowd. “And to defend hard fought victories for things like health care coverage, civil rights and protection for all communities, especially those most vulnerable.”
The rally at the State House was the third demonstration in the Greater Boston area as a part of National Day of Disruption — a nationwide day of action on the nationwide day of action on the four-year anniversary of the Fight for $15 movement, which started in New York City in 2012 with a walk-out by fast food workers.
Raise Up Massachusetts, an association of community organizers, religious groups and labor unions, arranged the rally. The coalition has led the minimum wage increase campaign in Massachusetts and was the group behind the 2014 ballot question that increased the minimum wage from $8 an hour to $11 an hour by 2017, according to a press release given to reporters.
Fast food workers, health care advocates and other workers spoke at the rally Tuesday, but speeches often became a call and response of chants such as “What do we want?” “Fifteen!” “And when do we want it?” “Now!”
Lilian Feliz, a private agency home care worker and one of several speakers at the rally, attested to the perils of trying to support her family with a minimum wage job.
“I have been a home care worker for 10 years, and I am very proud of the quality care I provide to elders and people with disabilities,” she said to the crowd through a Spanish translator. “But I cannot provide the same care to my family because I can barely afford to make ends meet. That is wrong.”
Earlier in the day, workers striked outside McDonald’s in Cambridge and Logan International Airport workers rallied at East Boston Memorial Park as part of the day of action.
Dozens were arrested at the Cambridge protest for civil disobedience, according to the release.
Keturah Brewster, the youth organizer of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network, said that going to the various protests was exhilarating, but momentum must be preserved for change.
“It was exciting to see protesters take a stance. It felt impactful,” she said. “I think we have to continue to put pressure on our elected officials. If we were able to get the $15 increase it would help the lives of people in our community and raise consciousness [of other’s struggles] that way.”
Others shared the sentiment that the minimum wage issue is part of greater injustice.
Jody Leader, of Brookline, said she feels an obligation to support activists because of her ethnicity and as a member of Showing Up For Racial Injustice Boston, a group of white people supporting racial justice.
“I have to fight for $15. Nobody can live off minimum wage in this country. Everyone deserves a living wage,” she said. “Part of this is, as a white person, I feel I have a responsibility to stand behind and with Black Lives Matter and this is one way that we can be active in the movement for people of all colors.”
Mariama White-Hammond, a minister at Bethel A.M.E Church in Jamaica Plain, said the wage increase is a matter of fairness and justice for everyone.
“A wage is about basic human dignity. It is about honoring the fact that if you do what you are supposed to do, you have a right to live a decent life” she told the crowd. “So $15 is not just a random, arbitrary number – it is about putting our money where our mouth is. It is about saying that workers deserve to live dignified lives.”
Photo by Alejandro Serrano