March 15, 2016
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Homecare workers and other low-wage earners are packing Albany-bound buses early Tuesday morning in an all-out effort to press for a statewide $15 an hour minimum wage.
Buses in all five boroughs, as well as Long Island and White Plains, are departing before dawn for a massive March 15, workers rally set for Empire State Plaza at noon. A “Low-Wage Worker Speak-Out” featuring 15 nursing assistants, childcare workers, airport workers, security guards, adjunct professors and others, is expected take place inside the Capitol Building just prior to the event.
Despite their diverse fields, each of the workers scheduled to take part in the Capitol Building “Speak-Out” share one thing in common: poverty wages.
There are some 200,000 homecare workers in New York City alone. And despite their awesome responsibilities, each continues to earn about 10 bucks an hour on average. According to 1199SEIU, the union representing home health aides, more than half of those workers rely on public assistance to survive — 30 percent receive food stamps.
Advocates for a $15 an hour minimum wage are pressing legislators to clear the way for the boost by the end of this month. Governor Andrew Cuomo has already called the proposed increase “fair” and formed a special task force with 1199SEIU President George Gresham at the helm to deliver it to workers.
Opponents of the a $15 an hour minimum wage, meanwhile, continue to insist that a wage hike will hurt small businesses and even workers themselves. Numerous studies, however, including those conducted by NYC Comptroller Scott Stinger, show that a $15 an hour minimum wage would positively impact 37 percent of New York’s workforce — providing them with more economic power and reducing the number of those that are officially rent-burdened.
The “Fight for $15” movement which began with fast food workers in New York City four years ago, has since gone national — although only Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders supports establishing a $15 an hour federal minimum wage. Republicans dismiss it out of hand, while Democratic rival Hillary Clinton only supports a modest bump in the federal minimum wage well south of $15 an hour.
Momentum continues to build for a $15 an hour minimum wage, nevertheless, with critics increasingly finding it harder to justify their opposition. Many still maintain that low-wage earners are just kids looking to make a few extra bucks — 1199SEIU finds that 95 percent of workers earning less than $15 an hour are 20 years or older, with 66 percent of them working full time.
Low wages continue to hurt working women of color the hardest.