New York Wins the Fight for $15 an Hour

Presidential-hopeful Clinton and Gov. Cuomo celebrate the state’s new minimum wage law

Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill to gradually raise minimum wage to $15 and allow a 12-week paid family leave across New York state on Monday. This landmark legislation came as a part of the 2016-2017 state budget after the governor launched the statewide Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice this January.

After signing the bill, he attended a rally at the Jacob J. Javits Convention Center in New York City, where he was joined by the Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. A huge crowd of labor leaders and minimum wage workers cheered them on to celebrate the bill.

“If you work full time, you should be able to make a decent living,” said Cuomo in his speech. He added, “We are restoring respect and pride and dignity to the worker with paid family leave.”

Clinton applauded the legislation, too. “When families are strong, New York is strong and America is strong,” she said, calling the 66 to 1 chamber vote on the legislation “a modern day miracle.”

Cuomo condemned the stark economic disparities that people in the state have lived with so far. “Productivity has gone up 70 percent, workers’ wages have only gone up 9 percent,” he said. Riding high on the crowd’s enthusiasm, he said this unfair disparity will not be allowed to stand in New York. “The economy does not work until it works for all.”

Governor Cuomo at the Rally in New York City (Photo by: Aditi Sangal)

Governor Cuomo at the Rally in New York City (Photo by: Aditi Sangal)

Clinton took the opportunity to send her own political message.  “I want to take what happened here in New York, and take it to Washington,” she told the crowd, which responded with enthusiastic cheers.

Both political leaders took digs at Donald Trump and his presidential campaign. Clinton said that she doesn’t understand how Trump thinks that wages are too high. “The real value of the national minimum wage is lower than what it was during Ronald Reagan’s administration,” she said.

Alvin Major, a fast food worker, attended the rally and said he expected life to improve with this legislation. “I was surviving on $7.25 [an hour],” he said, adding that now it’s up to $10.25. “I couldn’t pay my bills.” His wife has cancer and he is the sole breadwinner in his family of four kids, two of which attend Buffalo State College. But he pointed out that with an increase in his hourly wage, he will be able to pay his bills and send money to his children.

The legislation tackled other issues, too. According to a report by the Fiscal Policy Institute, a non-profit organization that focuses on New York’s economy and social conditions, immigrants make up 62 percent of the workers who will be directly affected by an increase in the New York state minimum wage.

Cuomo attacked Trump’s anti-immigration policy as he spoke about how the new statewide legislation will improve immigrant lives. “You think we’re going to fear our diversity? No! We celebrate our diversity,” he said. “Look in the mirror, we’re all immigrants!”

Oksana Solilyak, a 46 year old woman from Ukraine who migrated to New York City 11 years ago, was in the crowd to cheer the landmark legislation. She works as a homecare worker for senior citizens and takes care of their daily needs around the house and other activities like grocery shopping. She still lives on a minimum wage of $10.

“I want to send my children to college. The rent is $1,400, plus you have everything else to pay for,” she said, shaking her head counting how much basic amenities cost. “What would you do first? Pay the bills or feed your children?”

She said she feels that this law can make life much better for her. Her mother stayed back in Ukraine. “We chat sometimes via Skype. We cry, we miss each other. But what can you do?,”  said Solilyak. With the higher minimum wage and the new family leave provision, she’ll be able to visit her mother back home, she hopes. “If something happens to my mom, I can go back to take care of her for 12 weeks,” she said and smiled.

The  minimum wage won’t increase overnight,  however. According to the legislation,  businesses will gradually shift to a $15 minimum wage over a designated period. The law is slated to first come into effect in New York City. Businesses with 11 employees or more will have to raise the wage to $11 dollars by the end of 2016, and then increase it by $2 each year to reach the $15 wage minimum by the end of 2018.

Small businesses in the city must increase the hourly wage to $10.50 by the end of the year, and then increase it by $1.50 each year to reach the $15 minimum by the end of 2019.

This plan will work differently for workers in Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties. By the end of 2021, however, the plan will be adapted throughout the state.

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