Municipal Government, New York

Women And The Fight For A Living Wage

March 16, 2016
By Joe Maniscalco

Women are out front in the Fight for $15.

Women are out front in the Fight for $15.

New York, NY – This week’s $15 minimum wage rally in Albany may have been the largest demonstration in the movement’s roughly four-year history — but it most definitely had a female face. 

Women, by far, constitute the majority of minimum wage earners across the United States, according to the  Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the majority of speakers calling for a $15 an hour minimum wage at Tuesday morning’s “Low Wage Worker Speak Out” at the Capitol Building, were women. 

Pam Chettana, a nursing home cook in the Upstate town of Guilderland making $12.50 an hour, was among them. 

“I always believed in the American Dream that if you work hard and play by the rules, then you can have a better life for you and your children,” Chettana said. “But that hasn’t been the case for me and many others. Hardworking people like me and my husband are always working extra hours and still struggling to get by. To me, that goes against everything this country stands for.”

State lawmakers are under increasing pressure to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by April 1. 

“Recently, I moved to a new place and I couldn’t afford to get the hot water turned on,” said Syracuse nursing home driver Carlita Adamy. “We were taking a bath out of a pot of water warmed up on the stove. I have two kids. I have no car. I have no cell phone. My husband makes minimum wage and he has 14 years of cooking experience. That’s not right.”

The economic outlook for tipped workers struggling under the two-tier sub-minimum wage system is even bleaker — and 70 percent of those workers are women.

"Raising the wage will change the lives of all women in New York,” said NY Communities for Change member Elva Meneses. “Too many of us suffer from exploitation in the workplace, but also from abuse at home. Low wages trap you in relationships where women and children suffer from verbal, physical, and emotional abuse. Raising the wage to $15 will mean that women will have more options, we will be free to make decisions. Earning $15 is about survival, it's about living with dignity." 

Elizabeth James, a food service worker from Albany, took direct aim at Senate Republicans who continue to resist the growing number of economists who are convinced that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would be economic boon for the entire state. 

"Senate Republicans need to stop playing politics with my family's future and agree to a $15 minimum wage in the upcoming budget,” James said. “Our family members and neighbors are home health aides and cashiers and security guards – and all of us are struggling each day just to keep our heads above water. Our electricity bills can't wait, our landlords can't wait for the rent, our kids’ birthdays can't wait – and we won't wait for lawmakers to take our lives seriously.”

The workplace continues to be a hostile environment for women even when they aren’t scraping by on an unrealistic minimum wage. With Equal Pay Day coming up on April 12, it’s important to note that women still earn just 79 cents for every dollar a man earns.

Adding insult to injury, is the sad fact that many of the hardworking women unable to provide for their own families, are the same workers tasked with caring for the state’s most vulnerable citizens — the elderly, ill and infirm. 

“I work hard, but I love what I do,” mental health worker Arlette LeGree said. “I want to be shown that my work is valued by others. I need a living wage so that I can support my own family while I am taking care of others.”

Contrast that to the $25 billion in bonuses that Wall Street execs raked in last year, according to 1199SEIU — a figure that is twice as much as the combined earnings of every minimum wage worker in the United States. 

March 15, 2016

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