Fight for $15

By Kate Murray

Wanting what was fair, wanting what was right, on November 29, 2012, over 100 fast food workers from establishments such as McDonalds, Papa Johns and Kentucky Fried Chicken walked off their jobs in New York City to strike for higher wages, better working conditions and the right to form a union without retaliation from their managers.  Many of these workers were making the minimum wage at the time.  However, quite a number of these workers were making less than the minimum wage due to wage theft on the part of their employers.

This was the largest strike in the history of the fast-food industry.  Earning less than a living wage forced many fast-food workers to have multiple jobs, obtain food stamps and other forms of government assistance, in order to afford basic food, shelter and clothing.  These workers, who walked off their jobs in protest, were mocked and laughed at and were unaware that they would spark an international movement – changing the debate around income inequality.  Today we are grateful for these brave brothers and sisters who fought for living wages and a right to form a union.

My name is Kate Murray.  I am the president of the Federation of Labor for Broome and Tioga Counties.  Some economic matters are stunningly simple, the federal minimum wage is a bill asking to raise the hourly wage and it is only a few paragraphs long.  Unfortunately, the congressional response is simple, too: Democrats are for it; Republicans against it.  Congress last raised the federal minimum wage in 2009.  Why raise the wage?  Well, to match the 1970 value of the minimum wage in 2016, our cost of living wage in New York needs to be $14.27!

Who would get to see this wage increase, who are the workers currently earning our minimum wage of less than $15 an hour?  Most people assume this debate about minimum wage only affects kids with a part-time job after school.  Unfortunately, it’s not the case, they are not just teenagers.  Half of all New York workers paid less than $15 an hour are 35 years of age or older.  Fifty four percent (54%) of those workers are women.  And 48-49% of all Hispanic and workers of color, in New York State, earn less than $15 an hour. And most all of these low wage workers have families to support.

It’s come to the point where millions of New Yorkers can’t afford the basics.  That isn’t right and it’s hurting our economy.  Many of the corporations that supply low paying jobs recommend that their employees file for food stamps and public assistance.  Over the last 40 years, billionaire CEOs have kept wages low while pocketing more and more profit for themselves and their shareholders.  In fact, wages have stayed flat while worker productivity has gone up.

This costs us tax-payers billions of dollars each year.  Even if the worker is in a “full-time” job their income may not be enough to supply the basic necessities for their family.  People working full-time may still be living in or near poverty and unable to supply adequate housing and food and education for themselves and their families.

Yes, some folks do complain that a $15 minimum wage would cost our state and taxpayers a lot of money.  But, actually, the total annual cost of public assistance to low-wage workers in NYS between 2011 and 2013 was $9.1 billion, and the cost to state and local government was $2.9 billion.  Raising the minimum wage will actually save the state budget significant amounts of public assistance benefits that employed people are forced to utilize because they can’t make ends meet.

Personally, I can’t understand how some people don’t mind CEO’s making $10,000 dollars an hour but, act like the world would end if the minimum wage was raised to $15 an hour!

Politicians want you to think that a $15 minimum wage would be unsustainable for New York’s small businesses.  But, it is the large companies, not the mom-and-pop businesses that employ most of the workers earning less than $15 an hour in New York State.  Most small businesses are service industries such as dry cleaners, bodegas and diners that serve local customers.

When the minimum wage goes up, they and their competitors are all on the same playing field and can gradually adjust their prices to cover the cost without being put at a disadvantage.  Based on New York’s experiences with past minimum wage increases, there’s no evidence that transitioning to higher wages have hurt small businesses or changed the mix of large and small businesses.

We can’t grow a strong economy and have healthy, thriving communities on poverty wages.

Poverty wage jobs cause untold stress and misery to working families as parents struggle to decide whether to buy shoes for their kids or pay half the electric bill.  Workers earning poverty wages can’t buy homes, buy goods in our local shops, or support themselves.

That means, us New York taxpayers end up subsidizing huge corporations’ low wages because millions of workers are forced to rely on state safety net programs for support.  Subsidizing low wages means that we are SUBSIDIZING corporations large profits – making a few people very rich at the expense of workers AND taxpayers.

It’s time to raise the wage.  Raising the wage will put money in the pockets of low-wage workers who will spend that money in their local communities.

It’s what’s fair, it’s what’s right, and it will move us toward an  economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy. 

 

 

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