July 23, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – The cresting wave of worker energy demanding a $15 an hour minimum wage for fast food workers broke on the streets of New York City on Wednesday afternoon when Governor Andrew Cuomo's specially convened Wage Board came out in support of the landmark pay raise. But while the decision to hike the minimum wage to $15 an hour applies exclusively to one industry, low-wage advocates across all sectors say there is no way the force of change will be contained.
"A higher wage benefits us all by providing a kick-start to New York’s economic engine, leading to job creation in both the fast food industry and other sectors as well," AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento said in a statement following this week's announcement. "This is just the beginning. The Labor Movement remains committed to making sure today’s action sets the stage for all other low wage workers moving forward."
George Gresham, head of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East wasted no time characterizing the Wage Board's decision as a "bold action that should be a first step toward expanding the $15 starting rate to all low-wage workers, especially homecare and healthcare workers."
"Homecare is the fastest-growing job in America, and with the population aging, we need to ensure these are good jobs so we can provide compassionate care to seniors and people with disabilities," Gresham said in a statement. "Because they have a union voice, 1199 homecare members in New York City have won low-cost, comprehensive healthcare, but they still only make $10 an hour. This is a moral travesty and leaves many homecare workers and their children mired in poverty. Today, as we celebrate this victory for our city’s fast food workers, we are mobilizing our members to win $15 for all homecare workers, while protecting their healthcare. Together, we can win quality homecare for patients and good jobs for working families.”
RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said that hard-working New Yorkers – including retail workers and car wash workers – should "no longer be condemned to lives of poverty."
"The wage board's decision to raise wages for fast-food workers is a welcome step; and Governor Cuomo should be applauded for appointing this wage board," Appelbaum said in a statement. "However, other low-wage workers should not be ignored. The legislature must raise the minimum wage for all New Yorkers. Until that is done, far too many New Yorkers will continue to work hard and still live in poverty.”
At the same time the Wage Board was preparing to announce its support of a $15 an hour minimum wage for fast food workers, low-wage security officers, baggage handlers and wheel chair attendants at JFK and LaGuardia airports agreed to scrap plans to strike after bosses agreed to begin collective bargaining with SEIU 32BJ pending an official union election.
Over the last year, airport workers have stood should-to-shoulder with fast food workers, as well as other low-wage earners from a variety of sectors, in the Fight for $15.
Councilman Jumaane Williams [D-45th District] called the Wage Board’s decision a “big deal.”
“Let's remember, though, that our work isn't finished,” the Brooklyn legislator said. “We know that the lack of adequate wages is a fundamental problem in struggling communities. Without adequate wages, it's that much more difficult to pay the bills, the rent, and to send our kids to good schools and, maybe, save a few dollars each month. I hope that with this action, we can move toward increasing the city's minimum wage, and dealing with structural issues that lead to poverty and mere subsistence."
Nationally, the Congressional Progressive Caucus also introduced a new federal minimum wage bill proposing a $15 an hour 'one fair wage' for tipped workers.
"These steps forward in the fight for fair pay are showing millions more restaurant workers across the country that we can take on one of the largest and fastest growing sectors in the country and win the dignity of a fair wage," Saru Jayaraman, head of the Restaurant Opportunities Center United said in a statement.