STATE HOUSE – A living wage is a right for employees and a
path toward a more prosperous, livable state, said the sponsors of a bill to
raise the minimum wages for hourly and tipped workers to $15 over the next
several years, who were joined by working Rhode Islanders, business owners and
community advocates at a rally today in support of the legislation.
The sponsors, Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell and Sen. Jeanine
Calkin, said their main goal is to ensure that those working full-time at or
near the minimum wage can at least afford the cost of living in Rhode Island.
“The Fight For $15 is so important to Rhode Island families
who are struggling to make ends meet and live the American Dream. No one
who works 40 hours per week should be living in poverty, and raising the
minimum wage to $15 by 2022 would help lift up those working families and
individuals who are working very hard, and deserve to be paid a fair, living
wage,” said Senator Calkin (D-Dist. 30, Warwick). “In a time where the
level of income inequality continues to grow, wages for workers remains low,
even when productivity has increased. We must do all we can to support the
middle class of Rhode Island, and a $15 minimum wage can help us do that.”
The rally, organized by the legislators in conjunction with
Rhode Island Working Families, Rhode Island SEIU and Rhode Island Jobs
With Justice, was held at Jerry’s Beauty Salon on Broad Street in Providence’s
Elmwood neighborhood, amid mom-and-pop businesses and the apartment buildings
that house many working families who scrape by earning wages at or near the
This community and many like it need the far-reaching
improvements that would come with a higher minimum wage, said those speaking.
With higher wages, quality of life goes up, stabilizing families and their
community, they said. A 2016 White House study
even linked higher minimum wages to reductions in crime. Higher wages mean
working families are able to pay their rent to local landlords and buy the
goods and services they need from local businesses, pumping money right back
into local businesses, they said.
“Raising the minimum wage is good for families, good for
communities and good for business,” said Representative Ranglin-Vassell
(D-Dist. 5, Providence), “There’s a lot of conversation about how it would
impact small businesses. I understand and appreciate the concerns of small
businesses about the impact on payroll, but I am convinced it will have a
positive impact on them because more people are going to have more money to
spend in their community. Also, when workers are happy and satisfied in their
jobs, it reduces their stress and their productivity goes up, and they use less
sick time. It’s a win-win for all.”
Jeremiah A. Tolbert, owner of Jerry’s Beauty Salon, which
served as the backdrop for the rally, said he understands the plight of working
families, having worked at minimum wage himself.
“I strongly believe raising the minimum wage will mean a lot
for working families, and will have a positive impact on local businesses as
well. I know that when working people have more money in their pockets, the
more money they are able to spend. It will also improve employer/employee
relationships and trust. When workers are happy, productivity will be more
effective,” he said. “Taking this step will also help to improve work-life
balance, because families do not have to work three or four jobs. It enables
them sustain their families and spend more time together. We have to come
together as a state and take this step to raise minimum wage to $15 per hour.”
The legislation (2017-H 5595,
would gradually increase the hourly minimum wage from $9.60 to $15 by 2022, and
would also gradually increase the hourly minimum wage for employees receiving
gratuities, currently $3.89, to $15 by 2026.
From 2023 onward, the minimum wage would be linked to the
cost of living or the consumer price index (or a successor index). The sponsors
said that link, in addition to helping employees pay their rising bills, would
also help businesses because it makes increases predictable.
While a $15 minimum wage for all would help families across
the board, eliminating the much-lower base rate for tipped employees would end
a tiered system that makes restaurant employees’ paychecks extremely volatile,
subject to the whims of customers.
“I have talked to many tipped workers who don’t get paid
very good tips, or sometimes have to put up with all kinds of abuse because
they are afraid that if they don’t, they won’t get a tip. Or if they have to
miss a day of work because they are sick, they lose out on those tips and
struggle to pay their bills,” said Senator Calkin.
Charles Jones, an employee at a fast-food restaurant, and
Erica Hammond, a server at a fine-dining restaurant, both spoke of the
difficulty of making ends meet under those conditions.
Raising the minimum wage for tipped workers and all hourly
workers also has a more profound effect for women, since women are
overrepresented in the restaurant industry and other low-wage jobs, say
And in an age when many are turning to part-time work to
bolster their income in the “gig economy,” to make up for wages that have not
kept pace with inflation or because the jobs that had been their career have
been eliminated, hourly wage workers are a much different group than they were
years ago, said Grizzel Rodriguez, who works as a guest teacher.
“The minimum wage culture has risen in age, widened in terms
of educational attainment, and spread to occupations well beyond fast food.
Lifting the minimum wage to $15 will help a large percent of workers today,
comprised of hotel housekeepers and home healthcare workers,” she said.
The event was emceed by Georgia Hollister-Isman of Rhode
Island Working Families. Also speaking was Karen Baldwin, a direct support
professional at ARC of Blackstone Valley and Shirley Lomba, a C.N.A./C.M.T.
Despite their critical responsibilities and training requirements, many health
care workers make little more than minimum wage in Rhode Island, and workers in
that industry have been part of the “Fight for $15” effort in Rhode Island for
Speakers acknowledged that even a $15 minimum wage is not
necessarily a living wage, since it depends on the size of the family the
worker is supporting. According to the MIT wage calculator, a single adult
supporting one child needs to make $24.51 an hour to afford living expenses in
Rhode Island. But a $15 rate would be significant progress toward improving
life for many, they said, and Rhode Island must take action.
“Rhode Island could be positioned to lead all the New
England states. We should be bold and just do it. We don’t always have to
follow,” said Representative Ranglin-Vassell.