New York State is looking to make history this year and show all its workers that they are respected and deserve to live — and afford — the American Dream.
Governor Andrew Cuomo — along with state and federal officials, and local union leaders — announced Monday the launch of the Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice.
The campaign — which is a coalition of working people, civil right and religious leaders from around New York State — aims to restore economic justice through raising the minimum wage for over 3 million workers to $15 an hour.
“Minimum wage doesn’t even work numerically in this state,” Cuomo said. “You can’t make it on one minimum wage job you need two, three, four minimum wage jobs to make it and that’s not what minimum wage jobs was about.”
With this launch, New York will become the first in the nation to push for a statewide minimum wage increase of $15, which would impact about 37-percent of the state’s non-self employed workforce.
Such workers that could benefit from the increase include home health and childcare workers, retail clerks and security guards, bank workers and more.
“We are going to lead the way for this nation, we are going to restore honor and dignity and respect to the workers,” Cuomo said. “We are going to say to this country you can do very well on the top level but you can also raise up from the bottom. That’s what New York is all about.”
According to the campaign's official website, a large number of low-wage workers are currently being paid so little that they qualify to receive one or more types of public assistance.
With the campaign, the state hopes to take thousands out of the poverty level and “improve the life opportunities for thousands of children in low-income families across the state.”
“Sometimes there are laws that scream out for change and the low minimum wage all across America screams out for change,” New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said. “The core of this fight is simple, no one should work full-time and live in poverty.”
In order to make the minimum wage increase a reality, Cuomo added that there are two parts to the strategy that will be taken. The first includes winning small battles at a time — such as increasing the minimum wage for fast food and hospitality workers, who on Dec. 31 saw their hourly rate go up to $9.
The campaign will then reach out to other businesses and government officials to come on board.
The second phase will be to go to the New York State Legislature and “win the battle the old-fashioned way” and supporters will go knocking on doors and making phone calls to spread the word and garner more support.
“We have to reach the corner of every mind in the state of New York so they can hear the voices of those who are often not heard,” Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ said. “In this fight, we will lead the country.”
Along with launching the campaign, Cuomo also announced that the State University of New York would raise the minimum wage for more than 28,000 of its employees, including hourly paid staff, student workers and work-study participants.The wage will increase to $9.75 beginning in February and reach $15 by 2018 in the city and 2021 statewide.
Joining the governor during Monday’s announcement was actor Steve Buscemi, who is a former FDNY firefighter and son of a 20-year veteran worker for the Department of Sanitation.
The native New Yorker voiced his support for the campaign and said that the increase would help the state as a whole. He quoted Eleanor Roosevelt by saying: “When it’s better for everyone, it’s better for everyone.”
“[The workers] deserve a chance not to only pay the rent and feed their families, but also see their families,” Buscemi said. “Lets level the playing field…$15 minimum wage is not only right. It’s not only fair. It’s essential.”
The campaign — which is using the hashtag #Fightfor15 — will be chaired by George Gresham, president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East.
Gresham added that raising the minimum wage will not only help the workers but also their families – who most workers must spending time away from because of multiple jobs – and that although the road ahead is long, he is positive it will end in success.
“We are talking about something very decent and that is – a hard day’s work deserves a good day’s pay,” Gresham said. “When we finish this campaign, all of those who work in the state of New York will get dignity and respect for the work that we do.”