Workers in New York State have reason to be excited: Governor Andrew Cuomo has taken steps toward raising the statewide minimum wage to $15. To many, this might seem like an obvious victory for workers and activists who have been engaged in the long fight for $15/hr. But, as Henry Garrido, executive director of DC 37 — New York City’s largest public-sector union — argues in City & State, it might not be quite the win that it appears to be:
Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently called for raising New York’s minimum wage to $15, which, if enacted, would be the highest statewide minimum wage in the country.
“It’s wrong to have any economy where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, where the American dream of mobility and opportunity has become more of a cruel myth,” Cuomo declared in announcing the plan.
Indeed, at a time when workers throughout the country have been plagued by stagnant wages, the “Fight for $15” is a worthy battle that deserves all of our support.
But it isn’t a fair fight unless all workers benefit. And sadly, at least 20,000 state workers and other public service workers would be excluded from this proposal, including many employed by the City University of New York, where thousands of working men and women earn less than $15 per hour. (In a cruel twist that adds insult to injury, these same employees have been working without a contract since 2008.) They deserve the same shot at economic fairness as the rest of the New York state workforce.
Custodial Assistant Rory Satchell, for example, a CUNY employee who earns $10.99 per hour, has gone years without a raise and says that on some days he has to miss meals to get by.
There is no denying that for some time now across the country, the economic deck of cards has been stacked. A report by the Economic Policy Institute found that, even as labor productivity has improved steadily since 2000, the benefits have nearly all gone to companies and top executives, rather than rank-and-file employees.
In New York City, the issue of economic inequality rears its ugly head everywhere, from real estate listings to the social pages of our newspapers. Practically all of the economic gains in the recovery from the Great Recession have gone to the top 1 percent of the population.
Connect the dots: As luxury apartment buildings rise from the Battery to Harlem in Manhattan, as rents soar in Brooklyn and Queens, tabloid headlines scream about more homeless on the streets.
Clearly, solely raising the minimum wage will not solve the problems of inequality. But thanks to Cuomo, we now have the opportunity to set a benchmark for the rest of the country.
“If you work full time, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty – plain and simple,” he has said.
The governor can add considerable weight to those words by ensuring that his proposal covers everyone in New York state. As we move forward to raise the minimum wage of hardworking New Yorkers, we should not leave anyone behind.