Coalition starts campaign to raise minimum wage in NY
STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 11/21/2012, 3:53 p.m.
A coalition of activists, clergy, labor leaders and workers across New York state launched a campaign this week pushing for state government to establish a livable minimum wage. At Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, the largest emergency feeding program in New York City, the group held a news conference, which doubled as a Thanksgiving meal. All parties involved spoke about the necessity of raising the minimum wage.
"Raising the minimum wage is politically popular and morally right," said Michael Kink of the Strong Economy for All Coalition. "If lawmakers and Gov. Cuomo can't get this done, there's no way they can claim that they've cleaned up Albany. What's delaying the increase is the same old stonewall of big-money interests combined with behind-closed-doors decision-making. Today, we're asking a higher power to show our elected officials the path to the right action."
"As we approach this holiday season, we must remember that the only way to create long-term change for the low-income workers of New York is through real policy change," said Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) President Stuart Appelbaum. "By increasing the minimum wage by just $1.25, 880,000 New Yorkers and their families could have a shot at lifting themselves out of poverty."
With the economy of the country (and by extension New York) becoming more service-based, service jobs have seen the most growth since the recession. More people are relying on that kind of work, but such jobs have historically been low-wage. New York's current minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. If it were adjusted for the rising cost of living, the coalition claims that the real minimum wage should be $10.70 per hour. Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and 15 others states have a higher minimum wage than New York.
"With poverty spiking and real wages falling, raising the minimum wage needs to be at the top of the Albany agenda," said Paul Sonn, legal co-director of the National Employment Law Project.
While New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo has claimed raising the minimum wage as a priority, it's been met with blockades from New York Republicans. Back in May, the New York State Assembly approved a state minimum-wage increase, but the conservative wing of the State Senate blocked the bill in its chamber.
Sara Niccolli, executive director of the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State, spoke of the need for Albany to do the people's will.
"While it is always heartening to see generous New Yorkers volunteer their time to help the least advantaged around the holidays, the working poor in New York need change before charity," said Niccolli. "Our leaders in Albany should consider what it says about our state that roughly 1 million workers do not earn enough to afford basic expenses. Raising the minimum wage is an obvious and urgent priority for workers and for New York's economy overall."