Advocates of minimum wage hike rally against cost argument
ALBANY — With 10 days until a final agreement is due, advocacy groups are ramping up their efforts to include a $15 minimum wage in the state budget.
Several nonprofit organizations, advocates and Democratic legislators are slated to hold a rally outside of the Senate chambers in the Capitol Tuesday calling for a $15 minimum wage.
“The organizations will call on their opponents to stop using nonprofits as a scapegoat for maintaining the status quo of low wages,” they said in a press release.
Organizations that serve the developmentally disabled have repeatedly held press conferences in the Capitol in the last several weeks asking that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature include at least $135 million in Medicaid funding in the budget to help offset the cost associated with the wage increases for their staff. Other health care providers have also called for the minimum wage to include some sort of funding to help with the sting of a rising wage for their employees.
Heeding the call, the Democratic-dominated Assembly included a $200 million reserve fund to help health care providers afford the wage increase.
Last week, following a rally for the $15 minimum wage, Cuomo balked at the idea of helping nonprofits deal with a wage hike.
“We raise the minimum wage all the time. We raised it about eight times over the past couple of decades,” Cuomo told reporters. “We have never adjusted the contracts to reflect the minimum wage increase. Never.”
A coalition of health care providers — which includes the Home Care Association of New York State, LeadingAge New York, Healthcare Association of New York State, New York State Health Facilities Association — issued a statement Monday stressing how important it is that an increase in the minimum wage include a funding stream.
“Our industries are different from fast food establishments and we cannot just pass the costs along to consumers,” the groups said. “The services we provide are a public good, to large degree supported by reimbursement from public programs that have long provided a safety net for low-income and elderly New Yorkers.
“Without adequate state support for any wage increase, many organizations will close, worker hours will be reduced or eliminated, access to care will be imperiled, and some of our communities will suffer the loss of quality healthcare services,” they added.
An increase in the statewide minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018 in New York City and by 2021 elsewhere in the state has become Cuomo’s signature issue this legislative session. He included it in his executive budget proposal, though he did not propose any funding to help, to the chagrin of some in the health care field.
Cuomo has banded with his labor allies — the Hotel Trades Council, SEIU locals 1199 and 32BJ — to create the “Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice,” which is aimed at shoring up support for a $15 minimum wage.
The Fiscal Policy Institute — which has received at least $26,000 from the Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice for research, according to a POLITICO New York review of the groups finances — issued a report Monday noting that the retail trade would have the greatest number of workers who would benefit from a wage hike.
Roughly half a million retail workers, according to the report, would benefit from the $15 an hour minimum wage, 61 percent of whom would be women working in retail.
"People say nonsense sometimes that these are young workers and these are students, the report shows that 92 percent of all retail workers are adults and a quarter of them are struggling to support children," said Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. "If we want to have an impact on income inequality, then we have to ensure that retail workers are paid a wage that enables them to survive in New York."
Still, the Republican-led Senate is cool to the idea of a wage hike, despite Cuomo promising to push tax cuts for small businesses in tandem.
The Senate’s one-house budget made no mention of the minimum wage, but last week Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said the Republican conference would “consider an increase” after an economic analysis is conducted.
Small businesses also trembled at the idea of an increase in the minimum wage.
"Over the last week, farmers, business owners and other New Yorkers have sent more than 133,000 emails to lawmakers telling them why a $15 minimum wage isn't just a bad idea, it's bad policy," said Heather Briccetti president and CEO of state’s Business Council. "This a striking figure and speaks to the growing number of people, from every corner of the state, who realize New York's economy cannot support a $15 an hour minimum wage."
In an interview with POLITICO New York, Appelbaum dispelled the notion that small businesses would be hurt.
"Every single time the minimum wage has been raised in the state and in this country, the same fears are promoted that if we do anything to allow workers to survive, then small businesses will go out of existence and it has not happened," he said. "Time and time again in New York we’ve been told the same thing and it has not been real. I think we also have to think, if the only way that a small business is able to survive is by exploiting its workers and paying them so little that they cannot survive, then we have to question whether or not we want that sort of business operating in New York."