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New York's low-wage workers need relief

STUART APPELBAUM President of RWDSU | 6/14/2013, 2:46 p.m.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once asked, "What good does being able to sit at a lunch counter do if you can't afford to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?" King, an ardent supporter of fair wages and the labor movement, knew that true progress and civil equality can only be achieved by bringing working families out of poverty.

That's why it's so important that we take immediate action in New York state to raise the minimum wage with indexing that would automatically raise the minimum wage to keep pace with inflation. It would help low-wage workers earn more income now, and indexing would mark an important step in keeping more families out of poverty in the future.

New York state Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver's state minimum wage bill would raise the minimum pay rate to $9 an hour with indexing. The bill provides us with the opportunity to act now--this year--to make the change that has the potential to help improve the lives of countless low-wage earners.

While there is significant support for an increase in the minimum wage, some legislators have proposed the idea of a "training" wage, a lower minimum wage that would apply to youthful workers in the first months of their employment. Others have suggested that we allow change to happen on the federal level, because President Barack Obama proposed raising the minimum wage with indexing in his State of the Union address.

These options won't help provide immediate relief to the countless low-wage workers in our communities who are struggling just to survive and provide for their families. Change won't happen by delaying action and waiting for Washington to sort it out, and it won't happen by "training" young workers to accept poverty wages.

The state's current minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, and that's just not good enough for New York or our economy. Far too many full-time workers are living in poverty, and New York state hasn't acted to raise the minimum wage since 2006. We've waited long enough for increasing the minimum wage. In 2013, we need to finally make this a reality.