Municipal Government

Is NYC’s Fight To Raise The Minimum Wage ‘Close Enough?’

Joe Maniscalco
June 18, 2014

Worker advocates are willing to accept $13.13 an hour, at least for now.

Worker advocates are willing to accept $13.13 an hour, at least for now.

New York, NY – For the last few years, low-wage workers around the city – in conjunction with organized labor – have agitated for “15 and a union.” This week, however, it appears that the closest anyone will get this time around might be $13.13. 

On June 17, workers and their advocates once again pressed city and state officials to finally raise the minimum wage to levels where full-time fast food workers and other low-wage earners can actually afford to live in the most expensive city in America.

But legislation now painfully making its way through Albany, would only allow New York City to potentially lift the current minimum wage of $8 an hour, to a maximum of $13.13 an hour.

According to the Comptroller’s Office, raising New York City’s minimum wage to $13.13 would ultimately put about $100 more in the pockets of 1.2 struggling men and women each week. Not an insubstantial sum – especially for low-wage workers who work full-time, but are still unable to afford a roof over their heads, or are otherwise officially rent burdened. 

However, in supporting the legislation that could get New York City to $13.13 an hour, Comptroller Scott Stringer said that New York City should be "a leader, not a follower when it comes to raising the minimum wage." 

State bill A8343A/S6518A doesn’t do that. While several states including Massachusetts, Connecticut and Maryland have recently moved to push the minimum wage to just over $10 an hour, Seattle, as well as San Francisco, California, are already both out in front at $15 an hour.

Taken in those terms – while also remembering that the nationwide push to raise the minimum wage actually started here – pricey New York City does, as Stringer also pointed out, appear to be falling behind on the minimum wage front.

“Every raise, even minimal, is something to support,” says Leon Pinksky, an organizer with "15 Now," the national organization that helped Seattle achieve its $15 an hour minimum wage goal. “But instead of seeing a minimal raise as a finish point, we only see it as a beginning of this struggle. With any raise, workers feel confident about fighting for more of what they deserve. And any victory will boost other issues as well, such as the sky-rocketing rents and increased police violence.”

New York City-based worker advocates are also sounding similar notes. 

“We believe that $15 [an hour] is the wage that New Yorkers need to survive, live and provide for their families,” UnitedNY Executive Director Camille Rivera told LaborPress. “However, the proposal for New York State to allow the city to raise its wage to $13.13 is an amazing step towards reaching that goal. It will lift so many workers out of poverty – changing the lives of millions of New Yorkers.”

According to Pinsky, the momentum low-wage workers and their allies have thus far been able to generate, is forcing both Democrats and Republicans to try and come up with a solution that satisfies both their financiers and the voters.

“Yes, New York City might fall short behind Seattle for now,” Pinsky says. “But the success or defeat of the movement for $15 is dependent only on the capability to build a strong movement on the streets that is independent of the establishment parties – and to force the politicians and the bosses to give us something closer to a living wage. That's how it happened in Seattle, and that's the only way that it would happen in New York City.”

City Councilman Antonio Reynoso [D-34th District], co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, calls the current effort to raise New York City’s minimum wage a “step in the right direction,” but the legislator says that he is still looking for true municipal control over the minimum wage. 

“At this point, when we have opportunities for victories such as this, we take it,” Councilman Reynoso said. “It doesn’t get us where we need to be – but it does get us closer”

June 18, 2014

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