May 8, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Without committing to a $15 an hour minimum wage, Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a special Union Square appearance on Thursday, that he is giving a yet-to-be convened Wage Board just three months to show “real progress” in addressing chronically low wages in the fast food industry.
It took a previously convened Wage Board looking into the state’s sub-minimum wage six months to issue a series of recommendations that, taken together, fell far short of what advocates for tipped wage workers had sought.
Nevertheless, the coalition of unions and fast food workers cheering Cuomo in Union Square this week, met the governor’s rhetoric-heavy pronouncement with equal doses of optimism.
“It’s a start to where we need to go,” Midtown McDonald’s worker Jorel Ware told LaborPress. “Personally, I think we’re right around the corner, and we’re going to keep fighting until we get that $15.”
Low wage workers in Seattle and San Francisco are already on the road to reaching $15 an hour over the next few years.
Mary Kay Henry, head of the Service Employees International Union, the labor group responsible for launching the nationwide $15 an hour and a union movement, said that Cuomo’s announcement “paves the way for $15” in New York State.
“We’re not going to let anything stand in the way of winning $15 and a union,” Henry told union members gathered in Union Square.
The governor, meanwhile, spent more than 10 minutes trying to redefine the fight against income inequality as championed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, by offering his own take on current conditions.
“Some people call it income inequality, and we’ve been talking about it for years,” Cuomo said. “Unfortunately, we’ve made very little progress. We’ve always had income inequality, and we always will have income inequality.”
Further side-stepping the direct push for a statewide $15 an hour minimum wage, the chief executive, declared that he instead wants New York to "get out of the hamburger business."
“What we’re really talking about is a state of affairs that has our economy commonly dealing with wage fraud from companies that don’t want to pay a true minimum wage,” Cuomo said. “It is about employee extortion. It’s about corporate irresponsibility. It’s about the misappropriation of taxpayer funds.”
Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ, said that the nation needs to “reorient the economy” so that the American Dream works again.
“We are in a historic month,” Figueroa said. “We believe we can win. This is the beginning. The leadership in the [New York] Senate has to respond.”
When asked, 32BJ organizer George Aguilar said this week’s Union Square rally was just “one of the things that will get everybody to $15.”
“As long as they keep fighting, it will happen,” Aguilar said. “Just keep doing this. Keep sending the message and striking if you can strike. That’s what works.”
Hard pressed workers like Ware, who at 34, has no choice but to live back at home with his mom, can’t afford to wait much longer for a livable $15 an hour minimum wage.
“I pay $200 a week rent,” the fast food worker said. “If it wasn’t for [my mom], I’d probably be homeless in one of these boxes out here.”