- Associated Press - Thursday, January 23, 2014

BOSTON (AP) - Attorney General Martha Coakley called for a hike in the minimum wage, universal prekindergarten, and earned sick time for all Massachusetts workers Thursday as she campaigns for the Democratic nomination for governor.

Coakley made the pitch at a speech before the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. She also pledged to tackle income inequality, echoing a theme embraced by President Barack Obama.

Coakley said the difference between the haves and the have-nots is stark across the country, but it’s among the sharpest in Massachusetts.

Coakley said an increase in the minimum wage should be passed on its own. Some, including Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker, have suggested linking a higher wage to an overhaul of the state’s unemployment insurance system.

“We should not treat the minimum wage like a piece on a legislative chess board,” Coakley told the business group. “We need to pass an increase in the minimum wage - on its own - and pass it now.”

Coakley had previously endorsed a minimum wage hike.

The state Senate has already approved an increase in the minimum wage from $8 to $11 over three years, automatically tying future raises to increases to the Consumer Price Index for the Northeast.

The issue could also land on the ballot this year.

A labor-backed group is pushing a question that would raise the wage from $8 to $10.50 per hour over two years, linking automatic increases to inflation. There’s also an earned sick time question which would require employers to provide one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked.

Coakley said guaranteeing earned sick time will help ease workers’ fears of losing wages or their job if they have to stay home sick or care for a family member.

Coakley is one of five Democrats running for governor. They include state Treasurer Steve Grossman, Newton pediatrician Don Berwick, former federal Homeland Security official Juliette Kayyem, and former Wellesley Selectman Joseph Avellone.

Baker and Shrewsbury business owner Mark Fisher are seeking the Republican nomination.

Two independents candidates, Jeffrey McCormick and Evan Falchuk, are also in the mix.

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