Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com
Activists rallied outside the State House on Wednesday, calling on the Legislature to raise the minimum wage and guarantee earned sick time to workers.
More than 100 people chanted and held signs with messages such as “Jesus was a low wage worker” and “God created the Earth for the sustenance of all his children” before marching through downtown to protest outside several major retail and fast-food chains.
“This is about our coalition standing up to make a statement,” said Mimi Ramos, executive director of New England United for Justice. “We are here because we know that $8 an hour is not enough for people in our community to survive on.”
The rally and march were part of a series of actions around the state by a coalition called Raise Up Massachusetts, which is calling on the Legislatur e to increase the minimum wage from $8 to $11 an hour by 2015 and to mandate paid sick time for all workers.
In case the Legislature does not enact those measures, the activists have begun work to put a referendum on the ballot for next year’s election that would let voters decide.
“We have been waiting on earned sick time for eight years. Minimum wage, we have not seen an increase since 2008,” Ramos told the crowd. “It’s time that we take these issues to the street and say enough is enough.”
Ramos said more than 400,000 families in Massachusetts are living on the minimum wage, and it is necessary not only to raise it but to index it so that it will increase with inflation.
A spokesman for Mass Uniting said raising the minimum wage would put another $720 million into the Massachusetts economy, money that low- and middle-income workers would spend in retail outlets and restaurants, giving them a boost.
A woman named Reina Reyes told the crowd through a translator that her husband Freddy has been a cook in a restaurant for more than 14 years and always goes to work, even when he is sick.
About a month ago, she said, her husband had his finger badly while working, but his employer only sent him to the hospital after his hand had been bleeding badly for some time. Ultimately, she said, he lost a finger.
A doctor recommended that he take off two weeks to recover, she said, but he took only five days. Still, she said, he has not been paid since the accident.
“We can’t just live on my salary because I only make $10 an hour,” Reyes said through a translator.
Pastor William Dickerson of the Greater Love Tabernacle in Dorchester said it was sad that it was necessary to rally at the State House to demand sick time.
“Earned sick time is not just about staying in bed with a cold,” Dickerson said, explaining that the time could be used preventively, to keep existing health issues from worsening.
State Treasurer Steve Grossman said in an interview that he testified before legislators last month in favor of an increase in the minimum wage and would do so again in September. He said he is also a longstanding supporter of earned sick time for workers.
“This issue of earned sick time, in particular, is a moral imperative. It’s an economic imperative,” Grossman said. As a business owner, he said, he gave earned sick time to his employees many years ago.
“We built a great company because of the quality of people who work for us and because we treat them with dignity,” Grossman said. He said treating employees well will “increase productivity, loyalty, and craftsmanship.”
“There are almost 1 million workers in the Commonwealth who have to send their kids to school sick because they worry there will be a pink slip waiting for them if they stay home,” Grossman said.
State Senator Marc R. Pacheco, a Taunton Democrat, sponsored a bill that would gradually raise the minimum wage to $9, then $10, and finally to $11 by July 1, 2015.
Pacheco said he wanted to see his bill reported favorably out of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development for a vote by the full Legislature, so he could “see if they’re on the side of working families or they’re on the side of multinational corporations.”
He said legislators should not tie the minimum wage to the state’s unemployment insurance fund, which he said would cut benefits to the unemployed. If the Legislature will not enact the bill, Pacheco said he would eagerly sign a ballot petition calling for a statewide referendum.
“When we look at our state today and we look at what has happened to the buying power of the minimum wage … it’s worth less today than it was back in 1968,” Pacheco said. “If you adjust our wages for inflation, that minimum wage today would be $10.58 an hour.”
After the State House rally, activists marched to downtown chains — including Starbucks, Chipotle, Walgreens, McDonald’s, and Burger King — to protest low wages.
“Starbucks, Starbucks, you’ve got cash,” they chanted. “Why do you pay your workers trash?”
Speaking at a North End event Thursday morning, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick offered measured support for the effort.
“I think the minimum wage should be raised,” Patrick said. “I don’t have a point of view yet on how much or how fast ... but there are still a lot of people in minimum-wage jobs struggling to make ends meet.”
Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Grossman supported the bill sponsored by Pacheco. Grossman has voiced support for an increase in the minimum wage but has not offered support for a specific timetable or amount.
Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com