Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Cuomo’

States Where Minimum Wages Are Supposed To Be Living Wages

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

Bryce CovertLast week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced that he is taking advantage of a state law to raise minimum wages without the involvement of the legislature. He’s not the only governor with that power; others could also follow suit.

New York State law gives the labor commissioner the authority to convene a wage board to investigate whether the minimum wage in a specific job — or even all of the jobs in the state — are adequate, and to issue a “wage order” to increase it without the involvement of state lawmakers. On Wednesday, Cuomo announced that he would direct the commissioner to investigate wages in the fast food industry. New York was the home to the first strike in the fast food industry demanding a $15 minimum wage and has been home to them as they continued to spread across the country.

But Cuomo isn’t the only governor with the power to set a higher minimum wage without approval from a state legislature. According to an analysis from the National Employment Law Project (NELP), state laws in California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Wisconsin all empower their governors in similar ways. “There was a time when the minimum wage was less politicized and there was a sense that it should be at a level adequate to deliver decent incomes for workers,” explained Paul Sonn, general counsel at NELP. “These laws are still on the books in a number of places.”

States have already been raising their own minimum wages, to the point that the majority have a higher wage than the federal level of $7.25. But some state lawmakers haven’t been taking action. “Where the legislative process won’t deal adequately with the minimum wage, governors should dust [these laws] off and use them aggressively to deliver the wages that workers need,” Sonn argued. “Governors in states with this authority should be using them more frequently and more creatively to address the problem of low wages.”

One example could be California, which has a Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, who already signed a minimum wage increase to $10 by 2016 back in 2013. “Cuomo is saying, ‘I’m going to make New York a progressive leader with the strongest minimum wage in the nation,’” Sonn said. “Jerry Brown could do the same thing.” A spokesman for the governor’s office told ThinkProgress he wasn’t aware of similar options to what Cuomo did in California, but noted that there are other new bills and proposals to raise the wage.

The authority can also be used against governors who aren’t supportive of higher minimum wages. That’s already happened in Wisconsin. There, a state statute says that all wages in the state have to amount to no less than a living wage and that any member of the public can file a complaint saying the minimum wage fails that standard. Last year, low-wage workers and worker organizing groups submitted 100 complaints to Gov. Scott Walker (R) alleging that the state’s $7.25 minimum wage violates the statute, although his administration rejected the complaints.

A similar fight could start brewing in New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie (R) has voiced his opposition to increasing the minimum wage. “The Governor of New Jersey has the power to raise wages for hundreds of thousands of workers,” Analilia Mejia, executive director of New Jersey Working Families, told ThinkProgress. “We will absolutely be calling on Gov. Christie to follow in the footsteps of Gov. Cuomo, who Christie has called his ‘separated at birth twin brother.’” She also said the issue would be brought up beyond Christie’s administration. “Over the coming year Working Families activists [will] be asking every potential gubernatorial contender in New Jersey’s 2017 election where they stand on using the state’s wage board to end poverty wages,” she said.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on May 11, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: The author’s name is Bryce Covert. Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

 

New York Governor Calls For Major Minimum Wage Hike

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Kiley_KrohOn Sunday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) unveiled several new proposals, including a call to raise the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour in the city and $10.50 an hour for workers in the rest of the state.

“It’s too easy to say, ‘Get a job,’?” Cuomo said during a press conference in Manhattan. “You need to get a job, which means you need to have the training and the skills to get the job, which means the job has to exist, and when you get the job, it means the job has to pay enough so you can pay for rent and you can pay for food and it is a sustainable wage.”

The minimum wage in New York is currently $8.75 an hour, boosted from $7.25 in 2013, and is set to reach $9 an hour by 2016. Cuomo, noting that “the wage gap has continued to increase,” proposed that the $10.50 and $11.50 minimum wages go into effect at the end of 2016.

Some say that still isn’t enough to support a family in the state, however. “Eleven-fifty is almost $2 less than what he endorsed last spring,” Bill Lipton, director of the New York State Working Families Party, told the New York Times. “And the truth is it’s nearly impossible to raise a family in this state on even $12 or $13 an hour.”

Business Council CEO Heather Briccetti voiced a common argument in opposition to raising the minimum wage, saying “the end result will be fewer jobs created and potential job losses that will adversely impact both small businesses and entry-level workers.”

The big hurdle for Cuomo’s proposal will be winning the approval of the state legislature, namely the Republican-controlled state Senate. Cuomo told reporters on Sunday, however, that he believes the strength of the market makes the current conditions more favorable for reaching a deal than in the past.

States are increasingly raising their own wages ahead of the federal government. Fourteen states approved a minimum wage hike last year alone, including four ballot initiatives that won the approval of voters in November — even those in deep red states. With those votes, 26 states and the District of Columbia have higher minimum wages than is stipulated by federal law.

Contrary to fears, the 13 states that raised the minimum wage at the beginning of 2014 saw higher employment growth through the first half of the year than those that kept theirs the same.

The federal minimum wage currently sits at $7.25. Democrats in Congress have introduced several bills that would raise that to $10.10, but the measures have been blocked by Republicans.

Not only has it been estimated that a $10.10 minimum wage could lift approximately 4.6 million people out of poverty immediately; there are several other short and long-term benefits, including a significant reduction in government spending on public programs. A report released in December by the Economic Policy Institute found that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would give those workers enough of an income boost that they could be less reliant on public programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Program (SNAP) or the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) — ultimately cutting government spending on those programs by $7.6 billion a year.

This blog appeared on thinkprogress.org on January 19, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kiley Kroh is Co-Editor of Climate Progress. Prior to joining Think Progress, she worked on the Energy policy team at the Center for American Progress as the Associate Director for Ocean Communications. Previous employment includes serving as a media consultant and strategic adviser to Democratic candidates and committees at the federal, state, and municipal levels, working as a member of the executive production team for the 2008 Democratic National Convention and serving as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine from 2005 to 2007. Kiley is a Colorado native and graduate of Regis University in Denver.

War on Public Workers

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

amytraub4Conservatives have declared a new class war, but it’s not on bankers earning seven-figure bonuses. Instead, as Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels told Politico recently, the “new privileged class in America” is government employees, who “are better paid than the people who pay their salaries.” We have to escape “public sector unions’ stranglehold on state and local governments,” agreed Mort Zuckerman, billionaire editor of U.S. News & World Report, “or it will crush us.” Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal‘s Paul Gigot ominously predicts “a showdown looming across the country between taxpayers and public employee unions over pay and pensions,” while the Heritage Foundation warns that “the more the government taxes, the more it can pay its unionized workers.”

This decades-old assault on government employees has acquired new potency at a time of widespread economic suffering and populist rage. But the attacks have little basis in reality. A recent study by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence and the National Institute on Retirement Security finds that when such factors as education and work experience are accounted for, state and local employees earn 11 to 12 percent less than comparable private sector workers. Even when public employees’ relatively decent pensions and health coverage are included, their total compensation still lags behind workers in private industry. A separate analysis by the Center for Housing Policy finds that despite recent declines in home prices, police officers and elementary school teachers still don’t earn enough to buy a typical house in two out of five metro areas. Firefighters and librarians are unable to afford the median home in the New York, Los Angeles and Chicago metro areas. Nationwide, a school bus driver’s wage isn’t enough to pay rent on a standard two-bedroom apartment.

Despite American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funding, which preserved jobs and public services, city and state workers have been affected by the recession. The Economic Policy Institute reports that 180,000 local government employees have been laid off since August 2008, while furloughs have become a fact of life for public workers across the country. Much bigger cuts lie ahead: Education Secretary Arne Duncan warns that as stimulus funding dries up, as many as 300,000 teachers and other school personnel could lose their jobs this year to budget cuts.

The lavish lifestyle of public workers is a myth, but the right-wing mythmakers know it’s a powerful talking point. By attacking public workers, they can demonize “big labor” and “big government” at the same time, while deflecting attention from the more logical target of Middle America’s rage: the irresponsible Wall Street traders, whose risky, high-profit business practices brought down the economy, and the lax regulators who let them get away with it.

At its heart, the scapegoating of public employees is an insidious way to divide public and private sector workers who share many of the same interests. The Manhattan Institute’s Nicole Gelinas, for example, cynically argues that cutting pensions for transit employees is an act of “pure social justice” because it might spare minimum-wage workers higher subway fares. Absent is any disussion of raising the minimum wage or of more progressive means of funding the transit system. Low-wage workers aren’t Gelinas’s real concern; they’re just a rhetorical device in her assault on public employees.

The desired result is clear: there will be less pressure to address the decades-long erosion of pay and benefits for most working people in the private sector if public anger can be focused on the bus mechanic who still has health coverage. With a slim majority of all union workers employed in the public sector, the conservative class war amounts to dragging unionized public employees down to the level of contingent no-benefits workers before they can leverage their power to help private sector workers raise their own workplace standards.

Then there’s the “big government” angle. To the right, the budget crises engulfing American cities and states stem from one cause: as Nick Gillespie of Reason repeats ad nauseam, “They spend too much!”—especially on the supposedly lavish compensation of public workers. This simplistic narrative ignores how the nation’s deep recession has shrunk city and state tax revenue and omits the fact that plummeting stock markets have decimated government pension funds. To the extent that conservatives succeed in reducing fiscal woes to a case of runaway spending, politicians find it easier to address budget shortfalls with public sector furlough days, wage freezes, layoffs and benefit cuts than with progressive tax increases that, many economists conclude, would cause the least harm to the recovery.

This orchestrated assault may already be working: witness formerly proworker politicians like New York’s Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Cuomo’s attempt to demonstrate toughness by proclaiming, “We are going to be tangling with public employee unions.”

Yet it’s a short step from lambasting public workers to rejecting the very idea of public goods and services—and of government itself. With the nation still reeling from the harm caused by underregulated markets, conservatives are using city and state budget crises to call for across-the-board privatization, entrusting unaccountable private companies with an ever greater share of the public good. At the same time, the myth of the overpaid public employee is being used to undermine a range of progressive priorities, from financial reform to job creation bills like the Local Jobs for America Act, which would boost the economy by preserving public services and public sector jobs. It’s time for progressives to fight back and confront the falsehood.

About the Author: Amy Traub is the Director of Research at the Drum Major Institute. A native of the Cleveland area, Amy is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Chicago. She received a graduate fellowship to study political science at Columbia University, where she earned her Masters degree in 2001 and completed coursework towards a Ph.D. Her studies focused on comparative political economy, political theory, and social movements. Funded by a field research grant from the Tinker Foundation, Amy conducted original research in Mexico City, exploring the development of the Mexican student movement. Before coming to the Drum Major Institute, Amy headed the research department of a major New York City labor union, where her efforts contributed to the resolution of strikes and successful union organizing campaigns by hundreds of working New Yorkers. She has also been active on the local political scene working with progressive elected officials. Amy resides in Manhattan Valley with her husband

This piece was originally published in The Nation. Reprinted with permission by the author.

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