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July 25, 2013

Backers of minimum wage push eye ballot

BOSTON — Supporters of guaranteeing Massachusetts workers earned sick time and a minimum wage increase are prepping a fallback plan should efforts to pass bills through the Legislature this session stall again: the ballot box.

A coalition of unions, advocacy groups and faith leaders gathered Wednesday to formally launch a new ballot committee called Raise Up Massachusetts. The committee’s goal is to let voters decide those questions in 2014 if the Legislature fails to act.

The group’s mission, according to organizers, will be to first try to push legislation through the Legislature by next summer. If they fail, organizers say they will gather the necessary signatures to add two questions to the 2014 statewide ballot pushing for 40 hours of earned sick leave and an increase in the minimum wage to $11 per hour.

Organizers say dual ballot drives around issues like the minimum wage and earned sick time could also drive up voter turnout for progressive candidates in a year when the governor’s office and other statewide posts will be up for grabs. Democrats next year hope to build on the work of Gov. Deval Patrick, who broke a 16-year Republican hold on the Corner Office in 2006, while the GOP will be trying to break back into halls of the State House.

Debra Fastino, executive director of the Coalition for Social Justice, has taken the lead on the earned sick time part of the drive, and said this year was the fifth time supporters have filed legislation to guarantee that nearly 1 million workers in Massachusetts can take time off work without worrying about losing their jobs.

The bill aimed at helping mostly low-income workers has failed to gain traction in the Democrat-controlled Legislature.

Supporters says earned sick time will reduce unemployment, decrease employee turnover and improve productivity. Some business groups, however, worry that mandated benefits and higher wages could make Massachusetts uncompetitive with neighboring states and discourage business growth and hiring.

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