Municipal Government

$15 An Hour Minimum Wage Is All About ‘Family Values’

January 5, 2016
By Joe Maniscalco

Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

New York, NY –  Advocates for a statewide $15 an hour minimum wage have launched a new offensive to finally achieve their goal in 2016 that should be very familiar to conservatives still resistant to the idea — that’s because it practically comes straight out of the GOP handbook.

Last fall, Congressman Paul Ryan [R-WIS] made it abundantly clear that he would accept the role of U.S. House Speaker only if it didn’t cut in on his precious “family time.” It was just one of the latest examples of how conservatives love to tout “family values” any chance they can. 

Now, however, it appears they’ll have to actively dismiss those closely-held beliefs if they insist on opposing a living wage — the Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice has just made raising the statewide minimum wage to $15 an hour, a “family values” issue. 

Celebrated actor and former FDNY firefighter Steve Buscemi summed it up best during Monday’s campaign launch at 1199 SEIU headquarters when he talked about how low-wage earners deserve a chance to not only pay their rent and feed their families — but also to see their families, go out with them and enjoy life. "They shouldn’t have to work multiple jobs just to barely make ends meet," he said. 

U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez recalled that “starvation wages and intolerable hours” where both invoked when the Fair Labor Standards Act was signed into law 77 years ago.

“That created the minimum wage,” Perez said. “There are way too many people who can’t get to their PTA meeting because they’re working their second and third jobs.”

Although the overall economy has rebounded since the Great Recession, working men and women have not shared in that prosperity. 

“I, myself have to work three jobs in order to provide for my four children,” 1199 Home Health Aide Lisa Johnson said. “Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do. I work hard. But it’s not enough.”

Despite their devotion to “family values,” those on the right have consistently failed to acknowledge that working multiple jobs is antithetical to family life. When former President George W. Bush was confronted with another woman criticizing about the necessity of working multiple jobs back in 2005, Bush II famously replied, “Uniquely American isn’t it? That’s fantastic that you’re doing that — get any sleep?”

George Gresham, head of both 1199 SEIU and the new Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice, said that he pities any elected official who tries to get in the way of 3 million New Yorkers trying to earn a decent living today. 

“It is a very serious thing sisters and brothers, when you work as hard as you possibly can to take care of your family, and rather than being able to come home and be with your family,  you then have to go to your second job,” Gresham said. “And then your children end up being raised by the street — they don’t have guidance at home because you’re too busy trying to put food on the table. And then those that are making far too much for any human being to make, look down on you, and say you’re not good parents, and your’e not raising your children correctly.” 

The family-themed rhetoric had Governor Andrew Cuomo sounding more like presidential candidate Bernie Sanders than a former HUD secretary in the Clinton administration. 

“There is still right and wrong in society, my friends,” Cuomo told a packed house of labor. “There is still a fair, and there is still an unfair in society. It's not always about the equations. It's about what your heart says and what your values say. It's about what you think and believe. It's about how you institutionalize those values where you have this type of income inequality.”

The chief executive excoriated the fast food industry in particular for profiting off of non-livable wages. According to Cuomo, individual fast food workers earning $18,000 a year are provided with an average of $6,800 in the form of welfare payments, food stamps and housing assistance.

“We are subsidizing McDonald's workforce,”  Cuomo said. “McDonald's makes billions of dollars a year because they're underpaying their workers. The difference is made up by the state government through welfare payments and we're subsidizing their stock and their stock price. That's why they don't want to raise the minimum wage. They don't want the businesses to pay the fair wage — they want the taxpayers to pay the fair wage. But I'm getting out of the hamburger business.”

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said that labor advocates will, indeed, win the fight for $15 campaign by changing awareness, raising consciousness and making people look at the reality of low-wage workers and their lives. 

“The core of this fight is simple: No one should work full-time and live in poverty,” the attorney-general said. “We are here because we refuse to live in a society which half of all child care workers and home care workers have to rely on public assistance because their pay is so low.”

January 5, 2016

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