NORTH ADAMS -- Approximately 10 members of the April 4th Coalition spent Monday morning holding signs and waiving to passersby from the sidewalk near City Hall in a demonstration encouraging an increase of the federal minimum wage.
Coalition Chairman Richard Dassatti noted that the Labor Day demonstration is just days after the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
"You can still hear the echo of the march, and I hope we're part of that echo," he said.
The demonstration's focus was on raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.50, Dassatti said, a raise he says is long overdue.
"The 1968 level of minimum wage, adjusting for inflation, would be $10.56 an hour," he said. "If you took the level from 1968 to now and adjusted it to inflation according to productivity, it would be $22 an hour."
Dassatti stressed an increase would benefit local economies and the quality of life for employees.
"[Workers] aren't going to spend that money oversees and put it in a Swiss bank account," he said. "They're going to put it directly into the economy. They spend it on food and clothing."
The coalition takes its name from April 4, 1968, the day King was assassinated, Dassatti said, and is associated with Western Mass Jobs With Justice. The group's mission is to support collective bargaining and workers rights, he said.
"One of the ideas of the march was jobs for all, and that no American should ever work in poverty," demonstrator Mike Wilber said. "We want great jobs so people can live the American Dream. Right now, we haven't got it."
Susan Walker, a volunteer with the Friendship Center Food Pantry on Eagle Street, expressed similar sentiments.
"People need jobs," she said. "We need better pay for people. I see people who are capable people, but they've lost their jobs, and they can't find anything."
Demonstrator Mark Parris said he had been unemployed for nearly five years, except for temporary janitorial work at Berkshire Community College three years ago.
"I hope what we're doing today can stir up that pot," he said. "We need everything -- better health care, better wages, better hours."
City resident John Armstrong spoke about scare tactics used by large employers of minimum-wage workers, such as McDonald's, and the danger of having no employee benefits.
"You can be making a good amount of money, and if you get sick, you're wiped out if you don't have adequate insurance," he said.
Dassatti said a ballot initiative at the state's Attorney General's office aims to raise the minimum wage to $10.50, as well as provide sick days to all employees.
Dassatti said coalition members have discussed how to make change on a local level.
"We want to encourage the City Council to pass a resolution that would raise all city employees' minimum wage to $10.50 an hour ... to set the example here in North Adams," he said.
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