BOSTON >> A crowd of early childhood educators and care providers marched through the Statehouse on Thursday, disrupting an unrelated press conference held by Gov. Charlie Baker as they advocated for higher pay.
Part of the national "Fight for $15" movement of workers seeking a $15 wage floor, the protesters said state reimbursement rates to child care providers often result in pay lower than the $10 hourly minimum in Massachusetts after deducting costs of running facilities.
Later Thursday, more than 500 protesters gathered outside the State House to continue protests as part of coordinated global efforts, with plans to take their fights directly to the local doorsteps of McDonald's and McCormick & Schmick's. Protesters outside the State House were joined by Sens. Jamie Eldridge, Ken Donnelly, Patricia Jehlen, Dan Wolf and Sonia Chang-Diaz.
Among the demonstrators inside the State House was family childcare provider Marites MacLean of Fitchburg, who said she wants to see early educators valued in the same way as public school teachers.
MacLean said she is allowed to care for up to six children a day, and is reimbursed by the state at a rate of $30 per child per day, earning up to $180 per day. MacLean said she often has open seats in her day care so she typically takes in less than $180, and must also use that money to cover supplies, insurance and other expenses as well as her pay.
"It's hard for me to make at least the minimum wage, and it's so sad because the children that I took care of are now 14, 15, and they're starting to get a job at Market Basket, and I see them happy with their work," she said. "And they're making more than I'm making, which I feel is so unfair for the education that I have and the work that I do."
Family child care providers in Massachusetts are reimbursed by the state at maximum rates ranging from $29.13 to $37.89 per child, depending on the age of the child and region of the state, according to Department of Early Education and Care data.
The fiscal 2017 budget proposal released Tuesday by the House Ways and Means Committee includes $10 million for a fund to increase salary rates for early educators.
In budget testimony delivered in February, Early Education Commissioner Thomas Weber told House and Senate budget writers that he "would like to continue to focus on increasing the reimbursement rates we pay our child care providers," if revenues permit. Weber said the recommended federal benchmark for reimbursement rates is the 75th percentile of the private market rate, and the Department of Early Education and Care's current rate for family child care providers falls below the 50th percentile statewide and under the 25th percentile in some regions.
A group representing small business owners blasted the $15 wage floor, saying it "would be disastrous for small employers doing everything they can to keep people working in an environment where health insurance premiums, employee leave benefits, and regulatory costs are increasing dramatically." Local officials from the National Federation of Independent Business said that in the wake of the 22 percent increase in the Massachusetts minimum wage, another big increase could force price increases or a hesitation to add jobs.
"Our private sector members are incredibly frustrated with the economic uncertainty with which they are being forced to operate," NFIB Massachusetts Director Bill Vernon said in a statement. "Just when they think that they can begin to plan for the future and budget for the recent increases in employee costs, yet another drastic cost increase begins to surface ... The minimum wage rate was never intended to feed entire families, and it's about time someone spoke up about the political pandering and the economic absurdity of these proposals."
As the protesters marched towards Baker's office, the governor stood in the hallway out front addressing members of the media on a transgender public accommodations bill.
Members of Baker's staff met the ralliers in the hallway and accepted petitions from them. The group then turned around and marched in the opposite direction, coming up behind reporters as they chanted, "What do we want? Fifteen! When do we want it? Now!"
A day after activists supporting the transgender bill made headlines for booing the governor during a speech at an LGBT business event, organizers of the early education rally cautioned participants to remain respectful and not boo Baker.
Thursday's rally was part of a nationally coordinated day of strikes and protests by groups pushing for a $15 minimum wage.
Related events slated for Thursday in Massachusetts included a fast-food worker strike, a gathering of health care workers at the union offices of 1199SEIU, a demonstration at St. Luke's Hospital in New Bedford and a rally for faculty contracts at Boston University.
California and New York both recently passed laws setting a pathway to a $15 hourly minimum wage. The Massachusetts minimum wage is set to rise to $11 an hour in January 2017, after increasing to $10 this past January.
After the signing of the New York and California laws, Baker said he thinks Massachusetts should let the planned wage floor increase "play out" and use other approaches to combat income inequality before considering another hike.
"There are a lot of elements to this discussion and certainly the minimum wage is one, but I think Massachusetts is pursuing what I would describe as a multi-faceted approach to this and that's the right way to go," Baker told reporters earlier this month.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo said it would be "premature" to take on additional changes to the minimum wage. Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, however, has said the issue is under "very active discussion" in the Senate.
Bills pending in the Legislature would move the state towards $15 wage floors for various groups, including airport workers (H 3923 / S 2125) and the employees of fast-food restaurants and big box retailers (S 1024).
Michael Norton contributed reporting.