February 13, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
The president's pronouncement that the existing federal minimum wage should be boosted to $9 an hour – and tied to inflation – is heartening both labor groups and grassroots organizations in New York who have long been pushing hard for the much-needed change. (READ MORE)
"President Obama’s pledge to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 is a major step forward that could potentially impact millions of American families," Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union Spokesperson Tara Martin told LaborPress. "The current minimum wage is unlivable and we will continue to work hard until our New York working families finally feel the positive impact of a wage increase."
In his State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama said that no one who works full time should have to live in poverty, and that boosting the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour will, indeed, have a profound affect on workers nationwide.
“This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families,” President Obama said. “It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank; rent or eviction; scraping by or finally getting ahead.”
The $9 an hour figure is just a dollar short of what advocates of low-wage workers were calling for when they rallied outside fast food outlets and homeless shelters in New York City last December.
"We're encouraged that President Obama understands the need to boost the minimum wage and tie it to inflation," said Michael Stewart of UnitedNY. "Workers are suffering because the wages they're earning are not enabling them to pay bills, raise families, and take care of their financial responsibilities.”
In addition to benefiting hardworking men and women, the president also argued that raising the minimum wage would also help the businesses that employ them.
“For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets,” the president said. “In fact, working folks shouldn’t have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up while CEO pay has never been higher.”
Deborah Axt, co-executive director of Make the Road New York called President Obama’s announcement “critical” because it emphasizes the need for indexing the minimum wage, and reframes the debate in New York State.
“If companies in Alabama and Iowa can pay $9 an hour, how can we possibly take seriously arguments that New York businesses can’t afford $8.75,” Axt said.
The National Retail Association has condemned increasing the current minimum wage, calling the proposed change “One more factor driving up costs for employers and creating headwinds for job creation.”
But worker advocates in New York aren’t buying that well-worn argument.
“While organizations like the NRF claim that this could have a negative impact on job creation, we know that our working families here in New York deserve better pay,” Martin said. “Working people should be paid a living wage, at minimum, and a proposed indexing to inflation is also needed.”
Noel also countered NRF claims and other pro-business groups who say that raising the minimum wage will hurt an already weakened economy.
“Economists will tell you that the key to getting our economy back on track is to pay workers wages that will reduce the need for public assistance programs, and allow them to earn enough to invest in their local communities, thereby providing a much needed boost to the economy,” Noel said. “Workers deserve more in this economy, and it is up to our elected officials to do right by hard working Americans."
Two current proposals in New York come close to the president's $9 an hour call.
"The Democrats must act now," Working Families Party Executive Director Dan Cantor said. "We urge Albany to combine two proposals currently on the table: Speaker Silver's call for a new minimum wage of $8.50/hour plus indexing, and Governor Cuomo's call for a raise to $8.75/hour. We urge Senator Klein to join with Senator Stewart-Cousins behind what is a clear Democratic consensus approach: a real minimum wage increase, indexed to inflation." (Since the time of this writing, New York State Assembly legislators have introduced an amendment matching the president's $9 an hour proposal.)
President Obama's proposal would also benefit often overlooked restaurant workers and other employees who essentially work for tips by hiking the current $2.13 an hour minimum wage and linking future increases to the cost of living index.
“We know our economy is stronger when we reward an honest day’s work with honest wages,” President Obama said. “But today, a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $14,500 a year. Even with the tax relief we’ve put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That’s wrong. That’s why, since the last time this Congress raised the minimum wage, nineteen states have chosen to bump theirs even higher."