Much has been made of the recent agreement between the Working Families Party and Gov. Andrew Cuomo over the state’s minimum wage and whether cities and counties should be able to set their own minimums.
It was an historic moment for those of us in organizations like the WFP, New York Communities for Change, Make the Road New York and UnitedNY who have been fighting for years to make New York a more equitable place. Until now, that was just not possible while millions of men and women earned an inadequate minimum wage — one that often does not allow workers to put food on the table, buy new shoes for their children or cover the train fare to get to work.
The agreement – with support from this remarkable coalition that also includes Mayor Bill de Blasio — could give localities around the state the power to set their own realistic and livable wage if we are able to elect a true Democratic Senate majority – as well as other priorities like the DREAM Act and education reform.
But as good as it was, this deal is not about politics or whether it was good for this elected official or that one.
It is about giving 3 million struggling New Yorkers the opportunity to get a raise to $10.10 an hour and granting cities and counties the ability to raise the minimum wage up to 30 percent higher to reflect the local cost of living.
It is about workers like Shareeka Elliot of Brooklyn, an airport terminal cleaner trying to support herself and her children on a poverty-wage salary.
And it is about Frankie Tisdale, a 26-year-old father of two who can barely feed and clothe his two children on his earnings from a KFC restaurant, where his hours were cut to make him ineligible for full-time benefits.
New York continues to be the most unequal state in the country, but the momentum built by thousands of fast food and low-wage workers in various industries taking to the streets has gotten us this far.
Washington State’s minimum wage is $9.32 an hour — the highest state minimum in the country — compared to $8 in New York State and the federal minimum of $7.25. Based on a 40-hour work week, New York’s minimum wage translates to $16,640 a year, which is below the federal poverty line. Other states like Oregon and Vermont are close behind Washington, and just this week Seattle’s City Council voted unanimously to gradually increase that city’s minimum wage to $15-an-hour.
The Fast Food Movement, which began with a strike in New York on the blustery morning of Nov. 29 2012, has become a global movement for higher wages that has spread to 150 U.S. cities, and 33 countries on six continents.
Today there are bills in more than 30 statehouses, including New York, to raise pay for hard-working Americans in all low-wage industries.
The difference between earning $8 an hour and potentially $13.30 is life-changing. It’s not about politics; it’s about doing the right thing for hard-working men and women across New York and the rest of the country.
A recent poll found that 73 percent of New Yorkers — including 2/3 of voters in every region of state — support this measure, as does the Black and Latino Caucus, and more than 125 prominent women leaders.
The push by large, profitable corporations like Walmart and McDonald’s to pay workers as little as possible has left New York with the worst income inequality in the nation.
We’ve seen in other states, like California, Washington, and Maryland, that when cities and counties have the power to raise wages, it doesn’t just benefit big cities — it also builds momentum for future statewide increases.
Now, New York’s lawmakers have a choice: They can stand with 3 million hard working families, or they can stand with McDonald’s and Walmart. It’s that simple.