September 5, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
Queens, NY – As fast food workers fighting for a $15 an hour minimum wage and the right to join a union were arrested on the streets of Manhattan earlier this week, influential state officials across the river in Queens were vowing to help make their struggle become a reality in the coming year.
“One of the first things we have to do aside from [passing] the Dream Act, is we have make sure that New York City has the right to raise its minimum wage,” State Senator Malcolm Smith (D,WF 14th Senate District) told a gathering of elected officials and union leaders at Queens Borough Hall on Thursday.
Pending legislation currently in the New York State Legislature would allow New York City to raise its minimum wage to $13.13 an hour if passed in 2015. About 19 people in New York City, as well as hundreds more around the country, were arrested on September 4, during peaceful demonstrations demanding a $15 an hour minimum wage for struggling workers.
“We know that [New York City’s current] $8 an hour [minimum wage] doesn’t cut it,” said Councilman I. Daneek Miller, chair of the City Council’s Civil Service and Labor Committee. “And $320 a week is not enough to raise a family here in the City of New York – we can be better. Many workers still without benefits also suffer the indignities of wage theft at the workplace. Some fast food workers were arrested in Manhattan today protesting these very reasons.”
State Senate Minority Whip Jose Peralta, (D,WF-13th Senate District), lamented the nation’s shrinking middle class over the last 40 years, and said that the Empire State can, indeed, do better than merely bumping up the minimum wage to $9 an hour in 2015.
“We’re not going to save our middle class, much less grow it, if we let hysterics trump our common sense and decency,” the state senator from Queens said. “A city like Seattle has increased its minimum wage to $15 an hour. So, we have to do much, much more. We have to invest in ensuring that the minimum wage is increased.”
Assembly Michael DenDekker (D-34th Assembly District) said that championing fast food workers and other low-wage earners in their fight for a living wage and unionization, will make New York City stronger.
“People don’t understand that labor organizations have brought us the finest things in life,” Assemblyman DenDekker said. “Our kids don’t have to work in sweatshops anymore because of labor organizations. Healthcare benefits, vacations, weekends off – these are all things that we have now because of the work that has been done before us. Union labor works for everybody – it makes the middle class.”
Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-39th Assembly District), also backed fast food workers and saluted the Labor Movement for pushing the entire nation forward.
“Every American is able to lead a better life because of the Labor Movement,” the Queens assemblyman said.
As a younger man, State Senator Smith was himself a low-paid McDonald’s worker struggling to earn a living. Some 40 years later, he said that conditions for today’s fast food workers haven’t much improved.
“The salary that they get now is only several dollars more than I was making 40 years ago,” State Senator Smith said. “[Fast food workers] are marching for the right to be part of a union so they know what [real] benefits are all about.”