Governor Andrew M. Cuomo unveils the first signature proposal of his 2016 agenda – his push to restore economic justice by making New York the first state in the nation to enact a $15 minimum wage for all workers. (181367)
Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo brought good news to State University of New York employees this week.

Monday, the governor announced that SUNY would raise the minimum wage for its employees to $15 an hour. Cuomo also announced a push for New York to become to first state to make the minimum wage $15 for all workers.

Joined by U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez, 1199 President George Gresham, 32BJ President Hector Figueroa, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James and actor Steve Buscemi, Cuomo spoke on the concept of economic injustice demonstrated by the current minimum wage.

“You know what they are trying to do?” asked Cuomo during his speech. “They are trying to justify the minimum wage for two reasons. Number one, it costs businesses less money, and number two, businesses make money on the minimum wage. How can that be? They make money on the minimum wage. Listen to this, McDonald’s pays a minimum wage, but at the minimum wage in this state, you are still below the poverty level.”

As the AmNews has chronicled for several years now, states all over the country end up paying the price for low-wage employees in terms of tax dollar distribution. Welfare, food stamps, housing, medical and the state cover for many businesses who don’t provide enough benefits to their employees

“When you look at it at the end of the day, McDonald’s pays the minimum wage and the people of the state of New York pay on average $6,800 more,” said Cuomo. “$6,800 more. McDonald’s pays $18,000, the state of New York pays $6,800 more. We are subsidizing the McDonald’s workforce.”

Cuomo’s action earned praised from many, including Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

“Governor Cuomo’s clarion call to increase the statewide minimum wage to $15 an hour is a game changer,” stated Diaz. “We continue to create jobs and put people to work in the Bronx, but we need to do more as a society to ensure that all jobs are helping people rise out of poverty and make a better life for themselves and their families.”

But all aren’t Team Cuomo on this one. Professional Staff Congress President Barbara Bowen noted that the minimum wage increase only extended to SUNY employees and not employees with the City University of New York (the PSC represents CUNY faculty and staff). Bowen also mentioned that state funding for CUNY has remained flat at 14 percent since 2008 (pre-economic crisis levels).

“Lifting the wage floor for fast-food workers, state employees and now SUNY workers is the right thing to do,” said Bowen in an emailed statement. “Governor Cuomo listened to the growing demand from workers, students, labor unions, faith leaders and others. But singling out CUNY’s workers on the state payroll for exclusion is a monumental failure of progressive leadership. No institution embodies the progressive, pro-worker, anti-poverty goals of the minimum wage more than CUNY. No institution does more than CUNY to overcome the income inequality that the governor decries.”

CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken chose to keep his response to Cuomo short and sweet.

“The City University of New York supports Governor Cuomo’s initiative on increasing the minimum wage for public employees,” said Milliken in a statement. “We look forward to working with the administration and the board of trustees to ensure that CUNY’s employees receive a fair minimum wage.”

Meanwhile, the work of movements such as the “Fight for $15” look to have made their way to the Legislature in Albany. Cuomo continued to expound on the unfairness of the minimum wage.

“Talk about fair,” said Cuomo. “What fair would have been was to take the minimum wage and index it to a rate like inflation, so it went up over time. If you had taken the minimum wage in 1970, and you had indexed it to inflation, you know what it would be today? $15 an hour. That’s the fair wage for a minimum wage in the state of New York.”