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Announcing the campaign for a $15 minimum wage and fair wages



Today marked the launch of a coordinated campaign to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2023 and to guarantee fair pay for all workers. Raising the state’s basement wage would affect 165,000 workers, nearly one in three Rhode Islanders, and is supported by 68 percent of state residents, according to 2017 polling. Around 100 people attended the event.

The minimum wage bill is sponsored by Senator Jeanine Calkin and Representative Marcia Ranglin-Vassell. The legislation would gradually increase the minimum wage from the current $10.10 to $15 an hour by 2023 and then index the wage to rise with inflation. It would also phase out the unfair tipped minimum wage by 2028.

The fair pay bill is sponsored by Senator Gayle Goldin and Representative Susan Donovan. The legislation would ban hiring practices that depress wages for women and people of color.

“Rhode Islanders need fair pay for themselves and their families. Raising the wage and guaranteeing that everyone is paid fairly will help more our state’s families forward,” said Georgia Hollister Isman, state director of the Rhode Island Working Families, which convened this coalition and was the driving force behind last year’s earned paid sick days victory. “Our campaign will focus on educating legislators on these proposals that will benefit hundreds of thousands of Rhode Island workers.”

“We can help families in Rhode Island by passing a $15 living wage so that children whose parents work up to 80 hours per week do not have to go to bed hungry,” said Representative Marcia Ranglin-Vassell (Democrat, District 5, Providence), “Some will say, ‘let them pull themselves up by their own boot straps.’ People who care about justice say ‘You can’t pull yourself up by your boot straps if you can’t even afford boots.’ That’s why we are fighting day in and day out to make sure that if you work full time or even double time as my student’s mom does, you should never live in poverty.”

“We continue to live in a period of tremendous income inequality,” said Senator Calkin (Democrat District 30, Warwick). “At a time where CEOs earn about 335 times that of the average worker and corporations make huge profits, their employees struggle to make ends meet. We need to stand by working families and fight for a living wage of $15 an hour, which our legislation would implement over the next 5 years.  Not only would we be supporting the hard-working people of our state, but raising the minimum wage would stimulate the economy by increasing consumer spending.”

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“I’m a janitor and I make $13 per hour. in my industry, you can only work part-time and my pay isn’t enough to support a family of three,” said Laura Caceres, who works in Providence. “We need a $15 minimum wage because it is just! Without a $15 minimum wage, we don’t have the opportunity to better our lives.”

“The fight for a $15 minimum wage has been a long and hard battle both in Rhode Island and across the country,” said Nika Lomazzo, a waitress, activist and organizer with Rhode Island Jobs With Justice. “We can’t spend any more time deliberating on the topic. Servers are working themselves to death. We are often paid late, our wages are often stolen and we’re overworked and underpaid.”

In Rhode Island, a woman working full time still makes only 86 cents to the dollar that her male counterpart makes. Women of color are even more deeply affected. Rhode Island Black women make 58 percent of what their white male counterparts make; for Latinas, the number is even lower- 51 percent. On average, Rhode Island working women lose more than $7,000 per year to the wage gap—money desperately needed by working families.

The Fair Pay Act helps to close the wage gap by clarifying and strengthening existing equal pay protections and by eliminating practices that perpetuate the pay gap. The measure: prohibits employers from paying workers differently, including by sex, race, or for other protected classes; makes it illegal to pay workers less than their white, male colleagues without a clearly documented difference in skills;  clarifies what is comparable work; bans policies that prevent workers from discussing their pay; removes past salary history as a consideration; and requires disclosure of salary range to applicants and job holders.

“Despite the existing Equal Pay Act, wage discrimination laws are poorly enforced and cases are extremely difficult to prove and win. Stronger legislation such as the Fair Pay Act is needed to ease the burden of filing claims and clarify the right to pay equity,” said Rep. Susan Donovan (Democrat, District 69, Bristol, Portsmouth). “Women work just as hard as our counterparts to advance our careers and support our families. If we are serious about economic equality for women and people of color and supporting working families, we need to address the practices that continue to allow employers to discriminate against employees and perpetuate the wage gap.”

“In recent months, the imbalance of power in our culture and our workplaces has been given some of the long-overdue public discussion it deserves,” said Senator Goldin (Democrat, District 3, Providence). “The fair pay bill we are introducing directly addresses the imbalance of power that, too often, holds women back. This is about recognizing that every woman deserves to be paid what a man is paid. Period. That equal rights mean exactly that: equality. This isn’t a zero sum game; When we pay women equally, we all prosper.

“The legislation we are introducing today is interrelated with the the #metoo movement, the #timesup coalition, and other efforts to demand justice and equality for women,” said Goldin. “It’s another spoke in the wheel of this overall effort to shift the power balance and move toward a more equitable and fair society. Like sexual harassment, pay discrimination is about power structures in the workplace that value women less; they are connected and together reinforce gender, racial, and other forms of inequality in our society.”

The bills are supported by a coalition that includes the Rhode Island Center for Justice, the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Economic Progress Institute, Rhode Island Jobs with Justice, Planned ParenthoodRhode Island NOW, the Rhode Island Food Bank, SEIU 1199, SEIU 32BJ, Teamsters Local 251, the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island and Rhode Island Working Families.

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About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.