We celebrate historic minimum wage increase
George Gresham | 4/7/2016, midnight
Last week, the New York State Legislature reached a historic budget agreement that puts the state on a path to a $15 minimum wage. The legislation ensures that millions of low-paid, hard-working New Yorkers will receive much-needed wage increases.
Under the legislation, the state’s current $9 hourly wage would rise to $15 in New York City in three years, and on Long Island and in Westchester County in six years. The minimum would increase more gradually north of Westchester and for downstate businesses with fewer than 10 employees.
This victory is huge. When New York City fast-food workers walked off the job in November 2012, many ridiculed their demand for a $15 minimum wage and union recognition. There is still much work to do to help these workers unionize, but since the first actions, the Fight for $15 has spawned protests in some 150 cities. And it has scored major victories, including in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, all of which have enacted paths to the $15 minimum wage.
We in 1199SEIU are proud to have played a leading role in the campaign that last year won the $15 minimum wage for our homecare members in Massachusetts. Here in New York, fast-food workers and state workers also have won a phased-in $15 minimum wage.
Almost simultaneous with the New York budget victory, the California Legislature also voted for the $15 minimum wage. The California legislation calls for the minimum to be fully phased in by 2022 for most businesses and by 2023 for businesses with 25 or fewer employees. The victory will result in wage increases for 5 million workers in the state.
Here in New York, special thanks goes to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who put the weight of his office behind the campaign. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeffrey Klein are due recognition for helping to steer the bill through the legislature.
I am proud to serve as the chair of the Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice, the broad labor-community coalition that spearheaded the victory. We drew energy and inspiration from the nationwide Fight for $15 movement.
That movement has expanded to take in a wide range of occupations. At our March 15 action in Albany, N.Y. for example, among the several thousand who rallied were nurse assistants, homecare workers, airport workers, childcare workers, security guards, grocery workers and adjunct professors. Despite their vital work, many of those workers earn just over the current minimum of $9 an hour.
During the Albany activities, some spoke sadly about the need to depend on food stamps, even though they worked full time. Others spoke about having to work through fatigue and illness. Some said they wanted to be recognized and valued for their contributions. “Our fight is a fight for dignity,” said one of the marchers. “No one who works full time should have to live in poverty.”
Single mothers spoke about the pain of having to work longer hours or at second and even third jobs, robbing them of time with loved ones. Women will be especially helped by the increase because they represent a disproportionate percentage of low-paid workers.