Municipal Government, New York

$15 Is a Modest Demand – And Many Still Hate It

March 18, 2016
By Joe Maniscalco

The Fight for $15 continues to face resistance.

The Fight for $15 continues to face resistance.

New York, NY – One of the Fight for $15’s most ardent supporters is blasting Albany lawmakers this week for considering a wage increase that falls short of the mark. Talk of settling for something less than a $15 an hour minimum is particularly galling – considering the $15 an hour goal itself is already shooting low. 

In a statement released Thursday, Make the Road New York Organizing Director José López called poverty wages an “affront to workers everywhere.”

“All workers across our state should earn fair pay for a hard day's work, and that means a minimum of $15 per hour,” López said. “This is as true for upstate workers as it is for downstate workers. We strongly urge Governor Cuomo and leaders in the Assembly to continue to fight for the $15 per hour minimum wage proposal set forth by the "Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice" and included in the Executive Budget and Assembly one-house budget.”

Republican lawmakers continue to look for ways to oppose a statewide $15 an hour minimum wage, despite increasing momentum to get it done now.

Assemblyman Dan Stec [R-114th District] is on record saying, “Now’s the time for caution not recklessness, and I think we need to take a pause and listen to the people who are actually hiring and firing workers out there.”

Governor Cuomo has already taken executive action to slowly phase in a $15 an hour minimum wage for fast food workers over the course of five years – a move that the State University of New York has adopted as well. 

It is now inconceivable that thousands of home health aides, airport workers, administrative assistants, adjuncts and other low-wage earners around the state will sit still for anything less than $15 an hour as well. Frustrated CUNY staffers have been filling the streets in protest for months. 

Despite the tremendous energy, time and creativity poured into the Fight for $15 movement over the last four years, it is essentially a conservative campaign aimed at attaining a modest goal. The only thing that made it seem audacious in the beginning, was the outrageousness of the economic status quo. 

When Governor Cuomo officially launched the “Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice at 1199SEIU headquarters in January, he said the following: What fair would have been, was to index [the minimum wage] to a rate like inflation, so it went up over time.” 

But the fight for a fair  minimum wage wasn’t linked to inflation back then, and it isn’t being linked to inflation now. 

At another $15 an hour rally at 1199SEIU headquarters in February, George Gresham, union president and head of the “Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice,” instead told LaborPress that worker advocates will first have to win a $15 an hour minimum wage — and then fight for indexing.  

“We don’t want to scare people,” Gresham said. “First we’ve got to get a living wage established. Then we fight to index that going forward into the future.”

Other labor leaders strenuously supportive of the Fight for $15 movement are less than thrilled with the slow phase-in period and the lack of indexing — both of  which raise questions about the effectiveness of a $15 an hour minimum wage when all is said and done. 

“We needed $15 an hour now — under this structure,” Local 372 President Shaun Francois I told LaborPress in January. “Indexing would have been a doggone good thing. If we had been doing that, we wouldn’t be having these problems.” 

About 55-percent of New York renters pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing. While across the country, roughly half of all U.S. children are subsisting near the poverty line. Still, a $15 an hour minimum wage remains anathema to many on the right — and that includes Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton. 

“If we are going to live up to our values as New Yorkers who embrace economic justice and fair treatment for our workforce, we must ensure that all workers, in all parts of our state, earn a dignified wage of at least $15 per hour,” López said. 

March 18, 2016

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