On Nov. 15, Raise Up NY, Senate Labor Chair Jessica Ramos, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Comptroller Brad Lander gathered to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the Fight for $15 with a rally at City Hall, and to launch a new campaign for a $21 minimum wage for New York. 

The coalition, known as Raise Up NY, which includes workers, labor unions, community organizations, and businesses, demanded that the New York State legislature and Gov. Kathy Hochul act swiftly to raise New York State’s minimum wage, which has eroded dramatically in recent years as the cost of living has spiraled. Following a heated gubernatorial race defined by voters’ economic concerns, the popular legislation could prove to be the major issue heading into the state’s 2023 budget and legislative sessions.

“The Fight for 15 continues to inspire workers here in New York and around the country,” said Senate Labor Chair Ramos. “But its historic gains are evaporating as rents and costs skyrocket. We’re now at the point that Fresno and Yakima have higher minimum wages than New York State––it’s unacceptable for a state with such pride in our worker protections and such a high cost of living. We can’t leave New Yorkers behind. After last week’s election results, it’s clear that we need to lead with bold economic vision by restore New York’s minimum wage to reflect the true cost of living, and then guarantee automatic annual increases so we don’t have to fight tooth and nail every few years to catch the wage back up.”

Raise Up NY came together to fight for legislation (S3062D/A7503C—bill numbers are subject to change pending re-introduction) introduced by Senator Ramos and Assemblywoman Latoya Joyner. If passed, the legislation would catch New York’s minimum wage back up to where it would have been if it had been adjusted each year since 2019 to keep up with rising prices and worker productivity gains. That translates to raising the wage to $21.25 by 2026. After that, it would automatically adjust the wage each year so that it wouldn’t fall behind again. And while upstate New York never made it to $15 an hour under the last compromise minimum wage deal, Raise Up NY’s proposed legislation would catch all of the state up to the same wage level by 2027. 

Record rising prices are causing the real value of New York’s minimum wage to plummet across the state as consumers struggle with the rapidly rising cost of necessities. In New York City, its value has already fallen more than 15% and is projected to fall an additional 15% by 2027. This steep decline is reversing the historic reductions in poverty and earnings inequality that the state achieved with the $15 minimum wage.

“The family budgets of New York’s working families are being squeezed to an unprecedented degree and working families urgently need a minimum wage that protects them against the ravages of rising prices,” said Assemblywoman Joyner (D-Bronx, 77th AD), chair of the Assembly Labor Committee. “The catch-up provisions included in the Raise the Wage Act will enable working families to regain lost purchasing power while strengthening the local economy in the Bronx and communities throughout New York.”

“As time is ticking our workplace hasn’t met the needs of employees. Cost of living keeps going up but our wages are not. As a job coach I don’t even make $15 per hour. We need the minimum to get to $15 now,” said Tameka Earley, SEIU 200United member at The ARC of Greater Hudson Valley. 

While in 2016, New York led the nation as the first state to adopt a $15 minimum wage; today, it has fallen behind the many other cities and states that are raising their minimum wages well beyond $15. About 50 cities and counties and two states will have wages above $15 an hour as of January 2023—and a growing group will have minimum wages of more than $17 or $18 an hour. The fact that Yakima, Washington; Fresno, California; and Denver, Colorado will all have higher minimum wages than New York shows how far pay has fallen in the state.

“Our restaurant chain is succeeding and growing in a very competitive industry because we realize that our most valuable stakeholders are employees. Higher wages are the single clearest way to say to our workforce, ‘We value you,’” said Michael Lastoria, founder and CEO of &pizza and member of Business for a Fair Minimum Wage. “Raising and indexing the minimum wage is an essential way for lawmakers to say to New Yorkers, ‘We value you.’ And higher wages lead to greater consumer spending and greater workforce productivity, things every company benefits from. It’s time to raise New York’s minimum wage.” 

“As a Chipotle worker and a pregnant mother, I have no intention of supporting my family on anything less than $20/hour,” said Alyssa Roman, Chipotle worker. “While I would hope that Chipotle, and other big corporations, would understand the need for higher wages for families like mine, they will likely need a push from New York’s elected leaders. Luckily, Sen. Jessica Ramos and Assemblymember Latoya Joyner are more than happy to lead the charge with their groundbreaking legislation raising the wage to $20/hour. If Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol claims he cannot afford to give us a raise, I’d like to remind him that he made $17.9 million last year. I think he and his fellow wealthy corporate bosses can afford to pay their workers $20 an hour. I want to thank Sen. Ramos, Assemblymember Joyner, 32BJ SEIU and the entire Raise Up NY Coalition for boldly pushing forward an agenda that centers working New Yorkers first and foremost.”

Following the rally, hundreds of attendees marched from City Hall to the Chipotle at 404 Broadway to support the workers there who are currently unionizing.

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