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NYers look forward to minimum wage, but larger fight looms

Stephon Johnson | 1/5/2017, 5:06 p.m.
Many New Yorkers were celebrating the increase in state minimum wage beginning Dec. 31, 2016, this week, but incoming President-elect ...
McDonald’s workers protests photo courtesy of en.wikipedia.org

Many New Yorkers were celebrating the increase in state minimum wage beginning Dec. 31, 2016, this week, but incoming President-elect Donald Trump might make their hard-fought victory moot.

Earlier in 2016, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law a plan to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Thanks to a wage board that the governor convened, workers will get there faster than expected. Fast-food workers in New York City will see wages raised from $10.50 to $12, and workers at small businesses and larger employers will see increases to $10.50 and $11, respectively.

Although workers feel the extra money is a longtime coming, Donna Hampton (a security guard at John F. Kennedy Airport) said her extra cash will be put toward necessities, like always.

“This raise isn’t about to going to the movies or buying fancy clothes,” said Hampton in a statement. “For me it represents a MetroCard each week. That may sound like a small thing, but it’s not. To get to and from the airport during rush hour every day, I have to travel about five hours a day. Paying for that travel takes a big chunk out of my paycheck. Making 90 cents more an hour will help with that immediately and help make paying all my other bills just a little easier.”

Others, such as Brooklyn-based subway worker Janice Brooks, see the change as a godsend.

“I support my daughter and my grandson and sometimes I send money home to Jamaica to my dad and my son,” Brooks said in a statement. “It’s really hard. Right now, my daughter and grandson are in shelter, but we’re trying to get housing where the three of us can live together. Seeing my pay go up will make it a little easier.”

But challenges for the labor movement remain going into the new year. With an incoming president who seems to hold organized labor in contempt, 1199SEIU President George Gresham wanted to remind people of the fight ahead.

“It’s impossible to ignore the potential dangers we will face in 2017.” said Gresham in a statement to the AmNews. “All of our most important priorities will be under attack, including the Affordable Care Act, a higher federal minimum wage, immigration reform, justice system reform and solving climate change. The Supreme Court, National Labor Relations Board and Department of Labor will all be controlled by anti-worker appointees, and will most likely hand down many decisions that will hurt our members, other unions and working people throughout the country.” Gresham noted that his union’s been at the forefront of labor movements for social and economic justice no matter who’s in office, but stressed the need for unification among all labor outlets in the U.S.

“But even at this moment, there are reasons to be hopeful and to recommit ourselves to standing together for the issues that we care about most,” Gresham continued. “Surveys have shown that the majority of Americans agree with the social justice values that 1199SEIU stands for. Most people throughout the country want equal pay for women, clean energy, debt-free college, the right to join a union, a higher minimum wage and affordable health care. There will be many opportunities to organize at the grassroots for these issues.”