October 23, 2015
By Joe Maniscaclo
New York, NY – Local 372 President Shaun Francois I rallied alongside fast food workers and cheered when they finally secured a gradual $15 an hour minimum wage earlier this fall — but he wants a better deal for his own hard-working members.
“I’m not pushing for you to tell me we don’t get it until 2019,” Francois told LaborPress this week. “It’s not going to amount to nothing, and we’ll be right back at the table again.”
Under the deal backed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, it’ll take the lowest-paid fast food workers in New York City a full three years to get to a $15 an hour minimum wage. Fast food workers in other parts of the state will have to wait longer still — more than six years.
According to a 2014 report from the Women’s Center for Education and Career Advancement, a single adult living in New York City must earn at least $32,432 annually to make it in this town. Yet, even at $15 an hour, workers earning the minimum wage still fall well short of that basic living requirement.
Francois and an increasing number of worker advocates believe we can do better.
Last month, a coalition of clergy leaders rallied in Harlem calling for a $20 an hour minimum wage for workers. And despite the energy, strength and tenacity it took just to secure a phased-in $15 minimum wage for fast food workers, Reverend Michael Walrond of the First Corinthian Baptist Church, insisted that establishing a $20 living wage for all workers is not “some far-flung notion” or “whimsical hope.”
“We will make history,” Reverend Walrond said.
Over the past year, Local 372 members have seen their salaries rise to $11.79 an hour. Although welcome, Francois dismisses the modest wage bump as an effort to appease the union that hasn’t worked.
“It’s not slowing me down to seek more so that my members can live,” Francois said.
Conservatively speaking, the head of Local 372 says that 40 percent of his members must rely on some for of public assistance just to get by.
In May, Mayor de Blasio began taking serious flak at home for advocating a national $15 minimum wage agenda, while allowing his own municipal workers to languish at wages far below that mark.
“I think that our mayor and the administration should recognize that before we go national, we want to make sure that we recognize our public servants who are right here,” Councilmember Vanessa Gibson [D-16th District] said at the time.
Francois, who has worked for the city’s school’s system for nearly 25 years, takes the disparity personally.
“It’s disrespectful,” Francois said. “I was out there rallying for fast food workers. There’s nothing wrong with giving them $15 an hour — but you’ve got to clean up you own backyard first.”
The union recently launched a lawsuit against the city alleging a “gender wage gap” between school crossing guards and Traffic Enforcement Agents.
The deBlasio administration argues that its labor agreements ensure that city employees are already well ahead of the state’s proposed minimum wage phase-in throughout the end of the contracts.
Nationally, the fight just to get to a $15 minimum wage over the next several years continues. SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West recently announced that it has enough signatures to enact a California ballot initiative establishing a statewide $15 minimum wage by 2021.
Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in July introduced a bill to raise the $7.25 federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, only supports bumping up the federal minimum to $12 an hour.
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