2014: A Banner Year for Workers and Families in Massachusetts 

Overview of MCAN’s Successful Campaign to Pass the Highest State Minimum Wage and Strongest Earned Sick Time Laws in the Nation

November 2014

In 2013-14, MCAN (Massachusetts Communities Action Network) helped lead a statewide effort, together with allies in the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition, that succeeded in passing the highest state minimum wage in the country ($11.00/hour by 2017) and the nation’s strongest paid sick days policy (guaranteeing workers up to 40 hours a year of paid sick time). These reforms will benefit over one million people – one out of three workers in the state. The following is a short synopsis of the key phases of our campaign and our main accomplishments.

MCAN collected the most signatures of any organization in Massachusetts for the minimum wage – over 90,000 signatures, or over 25% of the total signatures during the campaign.

Creation of Raise Up Massachusetts

MCAN played a pivotal role in creating and leading the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition, which brought together faith, community and labor organizations that had been running separate, parallel efforts to raise the minimum wage and pass paid sick days into a single joint campaign. MCAN executive director, Lew Finfer, co-chaired the Raise Up coalition together with Harris Gruman, SEIU state director, and Deb Fastino, director of the Coalition for Social Justice. Nearly every grassroots organizing effort in Massachusetts participated in some way in the coalition. Raise Up employed a joint legislative and ballot strategy on both policies, in order to build maximum leverage with the legislature and have an option to go to the ballot if the legislature failed to act.

Legislative Campaign

As we built out the coalition in 2013, we started by waging a joint legislative effort on both minimum wage and earned sick time. To build support for legislation, MCAN met with legislators and held public meetings attended by members to build support for raising the minimum wage and passing earned sick time. In the spring of 2013, MCAN spearheaded a legislative hearing on the minimum wage attended by over 800 grassroots leaders.

Petition Signature Gathering Effort

While we pursued legislative avenues, we also proceeded with efforts to place both minimum wage and earned sick time measures on the ballot. This gave us critical leverage in our negotiations with the legislature. Between September-November 2013 and May-June 2014, approximately 100 MCAN congregations and community allies collected a total of 90,000 signatures to place two measures on the 2014 ballot: 1) to raise the minimum wage to $10.50 per hour including indexing and a raise in the tipped wage to 60 percent of the base wage, and 2) to enact earned sick time legislation granting workers the ability to earn up to 40 hours of paid sick time (unpaid leave if the employer had 10 or fewer employees). MCAN collected one-fourth of the total signatures collected by the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition. The overwhelming majority of MCAN’s 90,000 signatures were gathered by volunteers.

Passage of Minimum Wage Legislation

In November 2013, on the day that Raise Up submitted the first round of signatures to put both measures on the ballot, the Massachusetts Senate passed legislation raising the minimum wage to $11.00 per hour and indexing to inflation. To put pressure on the House to follow suit, MCAN collected signatures from over 300 clergy statewide calling on the House speaker to move similar legislation. Grasstops clergy presented this letter to the Speaker’s chief of staff in a meeting with him in the spring of 2014. We also got the Massachusetts Catholic Conference (i.e. the four Catholic bishops in the state) to endorse raising the minimum wage.

With the threat of a ballot campaign that would circumvent the legislature, the House speaker finally introduced and passed legislation raising the minimum wage to $10.50/hour but making a much smaller raise in the tipped wage and not indexing to inflation. MCAN continued to press for a legislation modeled on the Senate’s stronger bill. Throughout the conference committee process, MCAN leadership was in constant communication with staff in both the House and Senate leadership.

In June, both the House and Senate passed, and Gov. Deval Patrick signed, legislation that will raise the state’s minimum wage to $11.00 per hour by 2017, making Massachusetts the state with the highest minimum wage in the country. This is estimated to put close to $1 billion into the pockets of 600,000 low-wage workers. Of those who will benefit, 57 percent are women, and one out of three are workers of color.

Due to various considerations and technicalities, MCAN and the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition made a decision to accept this compromise legislation, which raised the base wage higher than our ballot measure ($11.00/hour as compared to $10.50/hour), but included a smaller increase in the tipped wage and no indexing to inflation. We were acutely aware of the racial and gender-specific impact of failing to make a meaningful increase in the tipped wage, and consulted closely with allies like ROC in making our decision. We are considering options to partner with allies like ROC to continue to work on these pieces of unfinished business.

Building our Voter Engagement Program

With the legislature failing to act on earned sick time, in June 2014 MCAN quickly pivoted into constructing its voter engagement effort to build support for the ballot measure (Question 4). This was MCAN’s first multi-region, coordinated voter engagement effort, and we intentionally designed our program to be de-centralized, volunteer-led, neighborhood-based, and values-based in its messaging.

The research on civic engagement is clear that direct contact at the door and over the phone increases the likelihood that people will vote, and that the most effective contact comes from well-trained people who are neighbors and friends. MCAN took this research to heart in deciding the two main voter engagement activities that we focused on:

  • Holding voter events inside members congregations, where clergy and other respected congregational leaders educated the people in their pews about Question 4, asked for their support and even enlisted volunteers.
  • Door-knocking in the neighborhoods immediately surrounding our member congregations, allowing our volunteers at the doors to cite a connection to a recognized institution in the voters’ neighborhood. The goal over the longer-term is for teams of congregational leaders to build an established relationship with voters in their area.

On a few occasions during our neighborhood canvassing, MCAN volunteers came across people at the doors who shared that they had already heard about Question 4 at their church, demonstrating the power of this sort of “layering” approach.

MCAN trained over 200 people and built 32 congregational or community-led voter teams. These teams designated their own “vote goal,” owned turf in the neighborhoods surrounding their congregation or institution, and made their own plan on how to reach their goals, combining door-knocking, phone-banking and voter outreach inside of their congregations.

Voter Engagement and GOTV

MCAN ran the largest non-partisan, volunteer 501c3 voter program in the state. Over a two-month period, MCAN volunteers made over 80,000 phone calls, knocked on over 30,000 doors and held over 50 events inside of member congregations to reach people with a message in support of Question 4 and motivating them to vote. MCAN tracked 14,000 face-to-face, on the phone or congregational conversations with voters. Much of this contact occurred during the days leading up to the election when it makes the most difference. We estimate that in the four-day period prior to Election Day, MCAN made 7231 dials, knocked on 10,945 doors, and had more than 3838 GOTV contacts with voters.

In addition to direct voter engagement strategies, MCAN also worked to get religious denominations and bodies to endorse Question 4 and educate their members on this. Our efforts led to endorsements by the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, who encouraged all parishes statewide to make announcements on Question 4 the Sunday before the election, as well as the Black Ministerial Alliance, COPANI (a network of Latino Evangelical churches across the state), the Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Massachusetts, Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts.

Passage of Nation’s Strongest Sick Time Law

On November 4, MCAN and allies in Raise Up Massachusetts succeeded in passing the nation’s strongest sick time law, winning a strong majority of voters (59.4 percent support). When it takes effect on July 1, 2015, Question 4 will guarantee every worker in Massachusetts access to the benefit of earned sick time, and prohibit employer retaliation against workers who take time off due to illness. It will benefit an estimated one million workers, including 49 percent of Latino workers and 67 percent of workers who earn less than $25,000.


Selected Media Coverage on MCAN’s Voter Engagement Efforts

“Group spreads word on sick time; Organization hopes to drum up support for ballot question”


“Interfaith group rallies in Brockton for sick leave measure; Question 4 would mandate earned time off”


“Brockton faith community rallies for earned sick time”


“Should voters support Ballot Question 4?”


“Supporters of Question 4 Rallied in Springfield”


“Rivals for Sixth District seat focus on immigration reform; Racial disparities, job creation also discussed at forum”


“Making an election relevant to young citizens”


“Sick leave, casino questions resonate with faith groups”