April 5, 2016
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton left supporters gathered inside the Jacob Javits Center on Monday morning wondering if organized labor’s successful campaign to realize $15 an hour minimum wage legislation in New York State, will finally push the former secretary of state to now support a similar pay hike at the federal level — something rival Bernie Sanders has long ago advocated.
“I know that doing this was hard, but now that it is accomplished we all have a right to be proud of New York,” Clinton told a group of mostly 1199 SEIU members cheering Governor Cuomo’s signing of $15 an hour minimum wage legislation this week.
Clinton’s ambiguity, however, did not phase the leadership of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East — who have endorsed her for president — or the hard-pressed home care attendants who have fought mightily over the last few years to raise their standard of living.
“I have no idea [when Clinton might support a $15 an hour federal minimum wage],” 1199 SEIU President George Gresham told LaborPress. “What I do know, is that she is interested in doing it, and it begins with that.”
According to Gresham, Clinton’s stance on a federal minimum wage — which, in contrast to Sanders, previously only went as high as $12 an hour — might change as her presidential contest with the Vermont senator and Brooklyn native continues to heat up.
“I can’t anticipate how soon, but I do believe that she is committed to it,” Gresham added.
One prominent Clinton supporter, however, did call on the Democratic Party favorite to immediately declare her support for a $15 an hour federal minimum wage.”
“I think she should come out and say $15 now,” Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said. “I think it should be a national $15 an hour minimum wage. Maybe she’ll announce it today.”
Clinton did not, in fact, heed the Manhattan Borough President's advice. Nevertheless, Mary Ellen Gibbs, a home care attendant with Elderserve in Riverdale, held out hope that 1199 SEIU members will ultimately be able to convince the former secretary of state to back the union’s continued drive for a $15 an hour federal minimum wage.
“Being that we’re already so convincing, I think we’ll be able to convince her to to support us,” Gibbs said.
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice-president of the New York Board of Rabbis, and a member of the statewide task force charged with helping to push $15 an hour minimum wage legislation through the New York State Legislature, said that he didn’t know when, or even if Clinton will declare her support for a $15 an hour federal minimum wage.
“I don’t know what she’s going to do,” Rabbi Potasnik said. “I know what we’ve done. And we’re going to continue to do it. We’re going to continue to get the message out there and, hopefully, people will respond accordingly.”
Before wrapping up, Clinton lauded Governor Cuomo for new legislation in New York phasing in a limited $15 an hour minimum wage and establishing 12 days of paid family leave by saying, "We need to build on what's been accomplished here today."
Fast food worker Alvin Major was on the strike lines when the Fight for $15 movement started on the streets of New York City four years ago – and he also shared the stage with Clinton and Cuomo on Monday morning. After the rally, Major said he is withholding his presidential endorsement, and added that millions of fast food workers like him will only support the candidate who stands up low-wage earners.
“The only person I’m voting for is somebody that will take care of me,” Major said. “The reason why I vote somebody into office is so that they can take care of us. That’s what we need. So, if you’re not doing the job that we expect of you — we are not voting for you. We are only looking out for the people that are looking out for us. I’m a Democrat, but if a Republican decides to take care of me, I’ll vote for the Republican.”
On April 14, low-wage earners across the country and even around the globe are expected to stage the largest-ever single day of protests and strikes in support of a living wage.
Democratic voters in New York, meanwhile, will go to the polls just a few days later on April 19, to cast presidential primary ballots for either Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton.