PITTSFIELD >> Sen. Elizabeth Warren recently came to Pittsfield to deliver her "American Agenda" presentation to an overflow crowd at our own Berkshire Community College. The message she conveyed is that changes in public policy in the last three decades have led to growing income inequality and that big money is having far too much influence on policies that benefit only the top earners, at a great cost to the rest of us. Sen. Warren calls for all of us to get involved to change that trajectory.
I was pleased to see that some of the policies she calls for to level the playing field are ones Massachusetts is already enacting. The Massachusetts Legislature, led by the Progressive Caucus, has passed a strong minimum wage law, raising it from $8/hour to $11/hour over three years. Earned Paid Sick time is also the law in Massachusetts and we will continue to fight for paid family leave.
This year, we passed the Equal Pay Act, a historic law that not only calls for equal pay for equal work, but includes specific provisions to address the gender pay gap. Making it illegal to ask for salary history in pay negotiations or to fire workers for discussing their pay will help solve the unacceptable fact that women in Massachusetts are still making 79 cents to the dollar compared to what a man makes for the same work. This legislation is serving as a model across the nation.
Sen. Warren is a strong voice for getting big money out of politics. The fact that we have gone from $200 million being spent by lobbyists in 2002 to a staggering $3.3 billion today demonstrates how effective it is for corporations to invest in trying to buy Congress.
A recent example is that of the company Mylan, which cornered the market on the EpiPen, while intensely lobbying for all schools to stock them (at taxpayers' expense). The company then jacked up the price by 600 percent, while corporate executive salaries rose 400 percent simultaneously.
The obvious solution to this problem is overturning the horrendous Citizens United Supreme Court decision that allows unlimited, unreported money in politics. Our Legislature has taken steps to stem the tide in Massachusetts through strong disclosure laws and strict contribution limits.
Early education key
The senator also presented data that shows that families are struggling daily with significant increases in transportation, health care, college costs and especially a staggering 935 percent increase in the cost of child care. Addressing the access and affordability of early education is a critical, but often overlooked, issue in economic development.
It has been proven that access to quality early education is the best way to ensure that children are reading properly by third grade, which in turn is a great predictor of future school success. We have had excellent work done locally through the Berkshire United Way's Pittsfield Promise Campaign, bringing together many stakeholders to promote early education and school partnerships. I have taken this fight to the Statehouse, where I championed funding for expanded access to early education so that more children have opportunity.
We also learned that a staggering 30 percent turnover rate in the field of early education is the result of unacceptable poverty level wages. Over the years we have called for raising the educational and professional standards for these teachers, but increases in earnings have not kept pace. It would be impossible for many families to cover any more of the cost. Unless and until state government plays a more active role in paying for this essential service, this problem will continue.
It's estimated that we have over 500 jobs in early education here in Pittsfield. Did you know that many of these teachers earn just over minimum wage and often qualify for food stamps? This needs to change. I look forward to returning to the Legislature to continue the fight for Universal Pre-K, particularly in Gateway Cities.
Protecting workers, investing in early education, and getting big money out of politics. These are critical policies to protect working families, and I ask for your vote on Thursday, Sept. 8 so that I can continue effectively representing the people of Pittsfield in this critical work.
Tricia Farley-Bouvier is the Democratic state representative in the 3rd Berkshire District.