Central NY Residents Call on State Legislators to Pass $15 Statewide

Members of a local labor coalition, endorsed by several community organizations, featured union members, activists and citizens. (Photo: Courtesy of CNY Citizens in Action)

CNY Citizens in Action/Guest

Utica, NY – Utica residents said a minimum wage deal being negotiated in Albany that would have a slower phase-in to $15 for Upstate, or lower minimum wage upstate than downstate, is unacceptable. They called on State Senator Joe Griffo and Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi to stand with upstate workers and pass a $15 minimum wage statewide.

“A $15 an hour minimum wage would boost the economy and put people on a path out of poverty,” said John Furman, President of the Central New York Citizens in Action, Inc.  “Our state legislators need to make sure Upstate New York – the people they represent here in Utica – don’t get left out of this historic legislation.”

Central New York Labor Council, Citizen Action of New York, Utica Activist Coalition, Cornhill Community for Change, Herkimer-Oneida Green Party, Mohawk Valley Freedom School, IWW, Love and Rage, and the Working Families Party joined together at a news conference today to send the message to the New York State Legislature that Upstate New York must not get left behind with a wage that’s under $15 or takes far too long to phase in.

At the news conference, the Central New York Citizens in Action released a study that concludes that “phasing in the minimum wage increase over 6 years to 2021 for the upstate areas as opposed to 3 years for downstate provides ample time for upstate businesses whose wage levels generally are 5% to 10% lower than downstate to adjust to the higher wage floor.”   The study also states that “…upstate employers would not have a harder time adapting to a higher minimum wage than downstate employers.”

According to a study by the National Employment Law Project, a single adult in the Utica/Rome area will need an hourly wage of $17.32 to meet basic needs like food, housing and transportation by 2021, when a $15 minimum wage would be fully phased-in. In all regions of New York, from Long Island to Buffalo, workers will need at least $15 per hour by 2021 to meet the basics.Picture1

“Poverty wage jobs are dragging the upstate economy down,” said Mr. Furman. “We can create thriving communities – but not on poverty wages. When workers here have more to spend, they’ll spend it at local shops and small businesses. That’s how the economy really works.”

About 1.7 million workers in Upstate NY would receive a raise under the Governor’s proposal. The phased-in $15 minimum wage increase will directly affect nearly 55,000 Mohawk Valley residents, and spur the reinvestment of $350.9 million into the region’s economy.  Already in Utica, a single adult working full-time needs to earn a $14.86 wage to support their basic needs. By 2021, single adults will need a $17.32 wage, with couples and parents needing to earn even more.  The typical worker would receive about $4,800 per year raise.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, the average worker who would benefit from increasing the minimum wages is a woman over 25 who works full-time, has some college education, and provides more than half of her household’s income.  Only 5.3 percent of impacted workers would be teens; more than 75 percent are 25 or older.

Recent experience with minimum wage hikes do not reveal a negative impact on small businesses.  Evidence shows that it actually gives advantages to small businesses, when they compete with big businesses to attract most talented employees.  Large businesses, rather than small neighborhood ones, employ most New Yorkers making less than $15.  In Upstate NY, the majority of small businesses are service related enterprises like restaurants that serve local customers and since they are on the same playing field, they can slowly adjust their prices to compensate for increased labor costs without suffering a competitive disadvantage.

Phasing in $15 an hour minimum wage would be a boost to the Upstate New York economy. Considerable economically sound research supports the conclusion that businesses can accommodate such an increase. A higher wage floor would generate significant cost savings due to reduced turnover and there is room for modest price increases to ease the adjustment without jeopardizing overall employment levels or profitability. Moreover, a $15 wage floor would boost consumer spending for over three million New York workers. It will aid struggling families, benefit one-third of the state’s children, reduce poverty, and will have positive overall economic consequences throughout New York State.

An increase in the minimum wage would reduce companies’ ability to shift costs to government programs, and would result in considerable savings at all levels of government in spending on various forms of public assistance as well as generate increased individual income and sales taxes paid by workers.

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