Labor, faith leaders call for paid family leave, increased minimum wage at May Day rally

  • Organizer Gail Kinney at the May Day Celebration at Concord City Plaza in front of the State House on Wednesday, May 1, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • People listen to songs and hold up signs for the May Day event at City Plaza in front of the State House on Wednesday. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • The Rev. Gail Kinney, organizer of Wednesday’s May Day rally, is shown.

  • Jennifer Smith of Pembroke shouts out at passing motorists on Main Street as she attends the May Day event at Concord’s City Plaza in front of the State House on Wednesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Jennifer Smith of Pembroke shouts out at passing motorists on Main Street as she attends the May Day celebration at Concord City Plaza in front of the State House on Wednesday, May 1, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 5/1/2019 5:13:56 PM

Faith and labor leaders came together in front of the State House in Concord on Wednesday to mark May Day and call for higher wages and expanded benefits for workers in the state.

About 50 people gathered at City Plaza in front of the State House holding signs, singing songs and listening to speeches before organizers hand-delivered a letter to Gov. Chris Sununu’s office seeking the governor’s support on certain legislation, including raising the minimum wage and establishing mandatory paid family and medical leave.

The Rev. Gail Kinney has played a major role in bringing the faith and labor communities together in New Hampshire and led Wednesday’s event in Concord.

“As faith and labor leaders, we realized that we have a lot in common,” said Kinney, the Worker Justice Minister at Meriden Congregational Church. “How we treat one another is at the core of our belief systems ... and how we treat the workers among us is also a part of that call for justice.”

A paid family leave bill was passed in both the Senate and House in recent months, setting up a possible veto from the governor who, along with other opponents, has called the plan an income tax.

The bill calls for up to 12 weeks of paid leave for the birth, adoption or fostering of a child, a serious illness unrelated to employment or the serious illness of a spouse or certain other relatives.

It would require businesses to provide insurance or send 0.5% of employees’ weekly wages to the state.

The group also called for a “livable” minimum wage, one well above the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour that New Hampshire has used since the Legislature repealed the state’s minimum wage law in 2011.

Now, state Democrats are calling for a $12 per hour minimum wage by 2022. It would also increase wages for tipped employees from $4 per hour to $7.25.

Opponents argue that it will buck the state’s business climate and could lead to layoffs, but supporters say the move will put the Granite State in line with other states in New England. New Hampshire’s neighbors – Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont – all have set minimum wages that are more than $10 per hour.

“Why would we pay someone a wage that we ourselves would never accept, a wage we know we can’t survive on but expect others to?” asked the Rev. Jason Wells, executive director of the New Hampshire Council of Churches, which also participated in Wednesday’s rally in Concord. “If we really want to live the spiritual values we talk about in our faith communities, this is one great way to connect those things. There’s a natural sort of fit between the faith and labor communities.”

In addition to increasing the minimum wage and establishing a mandatory paid family leave program, the group is calling for allowing immigrants to be eligible for a state driver’s license even if they do not have a social security number. Kinney said people who are expected to be at work but don’t have a driver’s license are forced to illegally drive.

“Our immigrant brothers and sisters need to be able to go to work safely and legally,” she said.

Finally, the group is calling for a “moral budget,” one that allows workers a to receive a “compensation well beyond poverty wages so that we as a state respect their dignity and acknowledge the value of the contributions they make to our well-being.”

The letter delivered to Sununu’s office reiterated the points made in a previous letter sent the governor on April 4, the 51st anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in Memphis in 1968.

“Dr. King was assassinated while standing in solidarity with striking sanitation workers in Memphis,” Kinney said. “In focusing on his message of standing in solidarity with workers, especially the most vulnerable workers in our midst, it has made people here in New Hampshire realize we need to do likewise.”

(Materials from the Associated Press were used in this report. Nick Stoico can be reached at 369-3321 or nstoico@cmonitor.com.)


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