Municipal Government

NYC Minimum Wage Boost Called ‘Bittersweet’

January 7, 2016
By Joe Maniscalco

Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Mayor Bill de Blasio.

New York, NY – Widespread praise for Mayor Bill deBlasio’s plan to phase in a $15 an hour minimum wage for city workers over the next three years, is not coming without concerns that the boost won’t mean as much by the time it’s fully implemented at the close of 2018. 

Shaun Francois I, president of Local 372, representing workers in the public school system, welcomed the eventual rate hike, but called it “bittersweet.”

“It’s not what I wanted,” Francois told LaborPress this week. “I really don’t think that $15 in 2018 is really going to make a difference, but I really do applaud the mayor for coming through with some kind of medium over time. So, you are going up in the process, and that’s where we want to be.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s official announcement outlining the $15 an hour phase-in at DC 37 headquarters on Wednesday, came two days after Governor Andrew Cuomo visited 1199 SEIU HQ to officially launch the start of his campaign to establish a statewide $15 an hour minimum wage by 2021. 

On Monday, the governor talked about the raw deal working men and women in New York State have been getting for the last four-and-a-half decades

“Talk about fair — what’s fair would have been to take the minimum wage and index it to a rate like inflation that went up over time,” Cuomo said. “If you had taken the minimum wage in 1970 and you indexed it to inflation, do you know what it would be today? Fifteen dollars an hour — that’s the fair wage for a minimum wage in the State of New York.”

Without indexing the minimum wage, Francois fears that workers will end up “back at the table” in a few years because rising costs will necessitate a higher minimum wage. 

“We needed $15 an hour now — under this structure,” Francois said. “Indexing would have been a doggone good thing. If we had been doing that, we wouldn’t be having these problems.

The administration argues that it would not make any sense to index to inflation via collective bargaining.

"That's why the mayor's policy includes specific dollar-value increases every year to accomplish the same thing," spokesperson Amy Spitalnick said in an e-mail. "State or federal law – which the mayor has long and loudly supported, could index to inflation without specific dollar values." 

The mayor’s minimum wage plan means that by the end of 2018, all city workers will earn at least $15 an hour regardless of whether or not their labor contracts expire before then. 

Employees working directly for the city now earning less than $12 an hour, will see their salaries increase to $12.14 an hour by the end of 2016, and $13.50 by the end of 2017 — before finally reaching $15 an hour a year before the decade is out. 

Traffic and Sanitation Enforcement Agents have been without a new contract for six years, and are still bargaining with the city for a new agreement. Despite the long wait for a $15 an hour minimum wage, CWA Local 1182 President Syed Rahim said that Mayor deBlasio is putting his progressive values into action.

Local 372 President Shaun Francois I.

Local 372 President Shaun Francois I.

“The mayor is showing his remarkable leadership for the city’s hard-working men and women,” the union leader said. “He values the dignity of work, and making working people’s lives better. Which also helps our small businesses grow, and shows that there’s great economic advantage in raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.”

Worker advocate Deborah Axt, co-executive director of Make the Road New York, said that the mayor clearly recognizes that high costs make current minimum wage laws insufficient. 

“This is a necessary boost for 50,000 hard working New York City employees and another important step towards achieving a $15 an hour minimum wage for all workers in New York,” Axt said in a statement. 

January 7, 2016

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