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Know Your Rights
Source: Legislative Gazette
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Women lawmakers want to give local governments the power to set their own minimum wage

A coalition of lawmakers, most of whom were women, called on their colleagues to pass a law that would grant cities and counties the authority to set their own minimum wage above the state minimum wage of $8 per hour.

Urging the passage of the #RaiseUpNY bill, sponsored by Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assemblyman Karim Camara, the group says women are disproportionately affected by low wages.

“Minimum wage as it is set in New York state at this point is woefully inadequate,” said Stewart-Cousins, the Senate Democratic leader hailing from Yonkers. “The staggered amount that will eventually get low wage workers to $9 an hour is not enough and we have to very seriously look at accelerating the minimum wage that we have, and while we’re waiting to do that, create an opportunity for jurisdictions and municipalities to be able to set wages so that it makes sense for low wage workers in their municipalities.”

Women unfortunately, Stewart-Cousins said, make up two-thirds of minimum wage workers nationally and over 50 percent in New York.

“Women have really become the face of low wage workers,” she said. “And, we’re not even making the equivalent of what men make. This is unacceptable, nationally, it’s certainly unacceptable in New York.”

While 34 percent of men in New York make less than $15 per hour, 40 percent of women make less than that. Additionally, in 2012, women working full-time in New York were paid just 83 cents for every dollar earned by men, with a greater gap for women of color — African American women earned just 66 cents and Hispanic women earned 53 cents for every dollar a white male earned.

According to the lawmakers, more than 1.1 million children in New York live in a household where at least one parent works a low wage job earning less than $15 per hour.

“Most distinctly, the children of our state are paying the price for living in poverty for not being sure whether there will be food on the table, whether the rent will be paid, or whether they’ll have their basic needs met,” said Sen. Liz Krueger, a Democrat from Manhattan who is the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee.

Supporters of raising the minimum wage cite New York’s highest level of income inequality in the nation and the roughly 3 million low-wage workers living in the state.

“We’re supposed to be the most progressive state yet we can’t seem to get it right,” lamented Sen. Ruth Hassle-Thompson, D–Mount Vernon. “This is not good or healthy for our communities and it certainly does not advance the abilities and the capabilities of our children.”

Opponents of raising the minimum wage argue the state already raised it, pointing to the recent agreement in which Senate Republicans agreed to raise the wage over three years, eventually reaching $9 an hour in 2016, without indexing future increases to inflation.

However, the lawmakers say a $9-an-hour minimum wage, which is a total of $18,720 a year for a full-time worker, does not meet the basic costs of living in high-cost areas around New York and will still leave a family of three below the federal poverty line. Had the minimum wage increased with inflation, minimum wage workers would be paid $11.11 an hour.

“Gender shouldn’t be the key factor for equality,” said Assemblywoman Gabriela Rosa, D-Washington Heights. “As I’ve said before, localities should be the ones making the decision … nobody knows your home better than you so localities should be able to raise the minimum wage accordingly to the population.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Comptroller Scott Stringer have both urged the state to allow local municipalities to have control over wages, receiving little fanfare for the idea in Albany. Local control over the minimum wage could particularly have a large impact on New York City where the cost of living is exorbitantly higher than the rest of New York state.

However, Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican representing areas of Staten Island and Brooklyn, rejected the call for local municipalities to control setting wages beyond the state’s minimum, insisting different minimum wages across regions will create county-versus-county competition.

“We should not be competitive with each other, we should be competitive with surrounding states,” she said outside the Assembly chamber.

Malliotakis also said varying minimum wages would “drive businesses to a county where it’s cheaper to work and sets us up to be competing with each other.”

On the issue of pay equity, she said the state should pass the equal pay bill included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act. The bill failed as part of the comprehensive women’s package after a controversial abortion component torpedoed the entire act. The Senate split the 10-bill package into separate bills but the Assembly refused to do the same.

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