New Year Brings New Resolve to Push for $15 Minimum Wage in New York

The Fight for $15 movement in New York began ringing in the New Year this week with a major escalation of the campaign to make New York the first state in the nation to enact a $15 minimum wage.

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A large rally on Monday kicked off the renewed drive in support of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s call for a statewide $15 minimum wage by 2021, where the governor was joined by hundreds of labor, community, faith and business leaders under the campaign banner “Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice” honoring his father.

The governor also announced that his previous order raising the minimum wage for state employees to $15 by 2018 in New York City and by 2021 statewide will now include employees of the State University of New York system – including students with work-study jobs on SUNY campuses.

The campaign also launched a statewide online petition to gather grassroots supporters, with an eye toward ramping up public pressure on state legislators.

On Wednesday, New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio announced that all city employees — including tens of thousands of child care and other service workers employed by outside organizations paid for by the city – will now be covered by a plan to raise their minimum wages to $15 per hour by 2018. Touted by some advocates as “historic” and as a “profound commitment and leadership to reducing income inequality,” the plan will raise wages for about 20,000 unionized city workers and another 30,000 workers employed by service providers, many of them day-care providers.

At a packed hearing of the state senate’s labor committee in Albany on Thursday, advocates and labor leaders supporting a $15 minimum wage were joined by a significant number of business owners and groups submitting testimony in favor of Cuomo’s statewide plan.

George Gresham, president of 1199 SEIU and chairman of the #NYFightfor15 campaign, told the committee that when employers can pay very low wages workers are often forced to work two or three jobs to try to support their families. “When that happens, parents aren’t there to raise their kids,” he said.

Asked by committee chairman Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) what the historical reference is for a $15 minimum wage rate, Hector Figueroa, president of SEIU 32BJ, noted that the 1963 March on Washington led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., called for raising the federal minimum wage to $2, a level equal to $15.51 in today’s dollars.

Paul Sonn, general counsel and program director of the National Employment Law Project, testified on the broad impact that raising the statewide minimum wage to $15 by 2021 would have on many workers, citing a new report released this week by David Cooper of the Economic Policy Institute

“Such an increase would raise pay for more than 1 in 3 New Yorkers – 3.2 million in total. The typical worker earning less than $15 in New York is a woman over 25 with some college-level coursework who works full-time and provides on average half of her household’s income, according to analysis by the Economic Policy Institute. And the typical raise these workers would receive, once the wage was phased in by 2021, would be approximately $4,800 per year – enough to make a very real difference in their standard of living.” – Testimony of NELP’s Paul Sonn

Sonn also noted the growing number of business owners and groups now stepping up to support the move to a $15 wage floor, several of whom submitted written testimony. They include Cynthia DiBartolo, chairperson of the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce, who wrote, “An increased minimum wage is the right move for businesses and workers alike – and we applaud the $15 proposal to remedy the plight of our State’s lowest wage earners. It is unconscionable for New York to have a minimum wage, which, at its current level, leaves millions of New Yorkers in poverty, or at best, struggling just to make ends meet.”

While other business representatives stoked fears of job losses resulting from a higher minimum wage, economist James Parrott of the Fiscal Policy Institute dismissed those claims as lacking a foundation in historical data, adding that considerable research supports the conclusion that businesses in New York will be able to accommodate a phased-in $15 minimum wage.


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