Demonstrators in Central Square forced police to arrest them Tuesday morning. Their goal: bring attention to a national effort to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Demonstrators brought that rally to the State House later in the day to push the Legislature to hike the state's wage floor.
Hundreds packed a hall on Beacon Hill to call on lawmakers to pass a bill upping that state minimum wage to $15 dollars an hour. The coalition behind the lobbying features many religious leaders who have asked the Legislature to pass the so-called "fight for 15" bill to help the poor embrace the holiday season of giving.
"It is our responsibility as citizens, as people of faith, as people who believe in justice to show love to our neighbors by giving them a kind of wage that allows them to live with dignity," Rev. Mariama White-Hammond from Bethel A.M.E. Church in Jamaica Plain told the crowd Tuesday.
The state's minimum wage is already set to increase to $11 dollars an hour starting January first. Opponents of an increase say it's just too soon to consider another hike, while some small business owners fear a higher wage could drive them out of business.
University of Massachusetts Amherst Economics chair Michael Ash says businesses can push the cost of higher wages onto customers without greatly driving up prices.
"It can be raised without, essentially without cost to the people whose wage is being raised and there's possibility that it's stimulative for the economy as a whole," Ash told WGBH News.
Ash also thinks a higher wage will have a big impact on the poorest workers.
"Workers who go home with the living wage will be able to take better care of themselves and their families with that wage," Ash said.
In order to become law, the bill must pass the typically business-friendly House of Representatives.It's leader, Speaker Robert DeLeo has said he expects to debate the wage next year.
"I don't think any of us can afford to live in a Commonwealth where people are not able to put food on the table and provide homes for themselves, so we're going to have to find it within ourselves to figure out how we're going to make this work," Rep. Jay Kaufman from Lexington, DeLeo's Revenue Committee chair, told reporters at the rally.
The Senate should be more friendly to the wage hike, so getting Gov. Charlie Baker, a business-minded Republican, to sign off on it could be a challenge in 2017.