March 30, 2016
By Joe Maniscalco
Brooklyn, NY – Vital home attendants — each earning about 10 bucks an hour feeding stroke victims, bathing the elderly, shopping for the disabled and generally providing the kind of around- the-clock care few among us have the capacity to render — are pressing Albany lawmakers this week to quit trying to water down a $15 an hour statewide minimum wage.
“The work that I do is very hard and we don’t get fair pay,” Carmen Lopez told an 1199 SEIU gathering of low-wage earners in Sheepshead Bay Tuesday night. “I would like one of these politicians to work just two hours of my shift.”
Despite empirical data and real world examples attesting to the economic benefits of raising the minimum wage, conservative lawmakers in Albany citing an imagined hardship for small business owners, are trying hard to amend pending legislation phasing in a statewide $15 an hour minimum wage over the next several years.
“You ask any economist with half a brain and they say this is going to help the economy,” UFCW 2013 Political Director Mischa Gaus told LaborPress. “You put more money in people’s pockets they go out and spend it. I think there are a bunch of hard right wing reactionary republicans who are against this, just because they’re against it – they don’t want to see working people take a step forward.”
Earlier this week, California — the biggest economy in the United States — beat the Empire State to punch, successfully striking a deal establishing a statewide $15 an hour minimum wage by 2022. While right here at home, student workers at both NYU and Columbia University joined fast food workers and staffers at the State University of New York in winning a $15 an hour minimum wage.
But with an April 1, state budge deadline just days away, some in Albany are seeking to sink a statewide minimum wage in New York by extending the already slow phase-in period, exempt certain industries like farming where workers are already some of the most abused people in the state, and/or limit the wage hike to just $12.80 an hour.
Area legislators critical of a statewide $15 an hour minimum wage include State Senator Simcha Felder [D-17th District], State Senator Andrew Lanza [R-24th District] and State Senator Marty Golden [R-22nd District].
Golden, a retired New York City cop turned politician, has been in the State Senate since 2002, and is considered “pivotal in the chess game” now being conducted in Albany.
“Senator Golden, come work with us and see what we go through,” Home health aide Margaret Passley said. “If you pay us $15 an hour it’s going right back into the community.”
Like scores of other immigrants before her, 64-year-old home care attendant Lioudmila Khaktchenko said she wants State Senator Golden to know that she came to the U.S. hoping for a better life, but hasn’t found it.
“I came to America for a nice life,” she said. “I don’t have a nice life. I’m sorry.”
Polls taken after Governor Andrew Cuomo launched his campaign for a statewide $15 an hour minimum wage earlier this year, show overwhelming support for the rate increase both downstate and upstate.
“It’s amazing to me that New York, one of the biggest cities in the United States, is one of the slowest coming along here,” UFCW 2013 Union rep Kevin Myrick said. “You’ve got other states that have jumped out in front. We’re the last on board and I don’t understand that.”
Once again, last night’s gathering at St. Mark’s Church on East 19th Street demonstrated that working women are most in need and deserving of a $15 an hour minimum wage. With workers in other industries already securing a $15 an hour minimum wage, it’s hard for home health aides, in particular, to understand why the majority of workers still must fight.
“I do hard and essential work,” Lopez said. “When I compare fast food workers with my job, the difference is clear.”