STATE HOUSE – Seven years after protesters marched in Warwick to demand a $15 minimum wage for fast food workers, the Rhode Island House has passed Rep. David A. Bennett’s bill increasing the minimum wage from $11.50 to $15 by 2025.
The bill (2021-H 5130A) would increase the minimum wage to $12.25 on Jan. 1, 2022; raise it to $13 on Jan. 1, 2023; raise it to $14 on Jan. 1, 2024; and finally to $15 on Jan. 1, 2025. The legislation now heads to the Senate, which passed companion legislation
(2021-S 0001aa) sponsored by Sen. Ana B. Quezada (D-Dist. 2, Providence) in February.
“At last, Rhode Island is on the path toward breaking the cycle of poverty for those at the bottom of the wage spectrum. Minimum wage has not kept pace with inflation over the decades, and our neighboring states have already taken this step toward making it closer to a living wage,” said Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick, Cranston), chairman of the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee. Bennett has been the primary sponsor of every law enacted to raise Rhode Island’s minimum wage since 2012, when minimum wage was $7.40.
“This legislation is a long time coming, the result of many years of advocacy by many on behalf of working people. I’m very grateful to my colleagues for moving this bill forward today for the sake of hardworking Rhode Islanders, many of whom do critical work in health care and other essential services, and who were asked to put their own lives at risk during the worst of the pandemic. Today, we are committing to a more livable wage for our constituents, because working families deserve the dignity of being able to support themselves on their wages.”
The minimum wage in Rhode Island was last raised to $11.50 on Oct. 1, 2020. In Massachusetts, the minimum wage is currently $13.50, but is scheduled to rise to $15 by Jan. 1, 2023. Connecticut’s minimum wage goes to $13 in August, and is slated to rise to $15 on June 1, 2023.
Bennett said minimum wage increases, particularly those aimed at bringing Rhode Island’s wage up to the level of surrounding states, help employees without putting their companies at a competitive disadvantage, since they apply to all employers. Raising employees’ salaries can also help taxpayers by reducing low-earning workers’ reliance on government assistance.
The House also approved a separate measure (2021-H 5851) sponsored by House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi to repeal a law that allows employers to pay workers with disabilities below the minimum wage.
The legislation eliminates a practice that resulted in a federal Department of Justice lawsuit against Rhode Island over the rights of intellectually or developmentally disabled Rhode Islanders. In 2014, the state entered a settlement that, among other things, ended the use of sheltered workshops where disabled individuals in day programs performed work for wages significantly below the minimum wage. But the state law allowing sub-minimum wage for disabled people remains on the books.
“Disabled individuals are entitled to the same rights, protections and dignity as all Rhode Islanders. Of course they should be protected by our minimum wage laws. While I’m relieved that state day programs for the disabled stopped engaging in this practice a few years ago, there’s no excuse for any law that allows anyone to take advantage of disabled people and pay them less than other workers. We must repeal this law to ensure that no one abuses disabled Rhode Islanders in this way ever again,” said Speaker Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick).
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