(Syracuse, NY) Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate for Governor, called today for the state Wage Board to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Hawkins noted that $15 an hour, adjusted for inflation, is less than the $2-an-hour minimum wage called for 50 years ago by A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King and others at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Adjusted for inflation, $2 would be $15.55 today.
Hawkins also told the wage board that it should join California and six other states in eliminating the tip credit that reduces the minimum wage. The Restaurant Opportunities Center United points out that tipped restaurant workers suffer from three times the poverty rate of the general population. The tipped minimum wage puts women in the compromising position of having to please clients and employers not matter how they may be mistreated since their livelihood depends on their tips. That is one of the reasons why the New York State chapter of the National Organization for Women has called for its elimination.
Hawkins testified today at the first hearing of the long-delayed minimum wage board, which is meeting to consider a pay hike for food tip workers. Hawkins said the minimum wage board should fulfill its legal responsibility to raise the minimum wage to a level adequate to maintain workers, which he said is $6 more than the $9 by 2016 that Cuomo and lawmakers agreed to 18 months ago when they left food tip workers out of the deal.
"Politicians, when they slash the safety net, argue that work is the best way to escape poverty. But then both Democrats and Republicans keep the minimum wage as a sub-poverty wage. Those who work the hardest in our economy are usually paid the lowest wages – if they are paid at all. That won't happen under my administration," said Hawkins, a Teamster who works the night shift unloading trucks for UPS.
"The $9 an hour that current law will raise the minimum wage to by 2016 is still a poverty wage. Your legal job is to do what is right for low-income workers, not for the business contributors to the politicians who adopted that sub-poverty standard.," Hawkins told the board members.
Hawkins noted that the low minimum wage is part of the feminization of poverty. Two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women. Many are single moms.
While beyond the scope of the minimum wage board, Hawkins said that he would also pass legislation allowing local communities to set a local minimum wage that is higher than the state level. Cuomo, in order to get the Working Families Party nomination, said he supported this change, but later said he would limit the local minimum wage to no more than 30% higher than the state wage.
Hawkins also said he would repeal the teenage tax credit that Cuomo approved to provide tens of millions of dollars in tax credit to employers, mainly large corporations, which hire teenagers at the minimum wage. Not only does this provide a disincentive to hire adult workers, it also provides an incentive to employers not to raise teenage salaries above the minimum wage or they will lose the tax credit.
Hawkins faulted Cuomo for his continued foot dragging on providing a wage hike for food tip workers.
Cuomo delayed announcing the formation of a minimum wage board for more than a year after being directed to do so by the state legislature. The July 24 announcement on the minimum wage board was part of the flurry of press releases he issued in a desperate attempt to divert attention after the NY Times ran an in-depth story on the Moreland Commission.
However, the Governor actually failed to actually convene the minimum wage board in July. State labor law requires the Board to complete its work within 45 days after it is convened, which would have been the week after Labor Day if he had actually convened it on July 24. Cuomo now plans to delay any wage hike until after the election.
Hawkins said that more workers and strong consumer representatives should have been added to the three members that Cuomo appointed, especially more direct representatives of food tip workers.
Hawkins reminded the minimum wage board that they have the statutory authority to take action to protect the minimum wage. He cautioned them against weakening any provisions in the last wage order, including how tip workers qualify both for overtime pay and for the full minimum wage if they do more than 20% of their time in a non-tip position.
Hawkins also urged them to take action to crack down on the epidemic of wage theft in the state, which is estimated to cost low-income workers just in New York City a billion dollars annually. Cuomo this year refused to add more Labor Department staff in the state budget to cut down on the two-year backlog of wage-theft cases. Instead his administration cut in half the amount of time (from 6 years to 3) that it would seek to recover lost wages for when workers filed complaints.
Hawkins supports legislation to make it easier for workers to collect back pay for stolen wages when they win cases, including the ability to file liens. Hawkins and Ramon Jimenez, the Green Party's Attorney General candidate, would also hold bosses criminally liable for wage theft.
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