New York State United Teachers is pushing for the passage of a bill that would enable cities and counties to set their own minimum wage - a move that would help lift low-income workers, especially women, out of poverty.
The bill - part of a campaign known as Raise Up NY - would allow municipalities to raise the minimum wage above the state's $8-per hour limit so that it is better suited to regional costs of living. The proposed legislation – sponsored by Assemblyman Karim Camara, D-Brooklyn and state Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers -now sits before the Labor Committees in both legislative houses. More on the Raise Up movement can be foundat www.nyworkersrising.org.
New York has one of the nation's highest levels of income inequality, with roughly 3 million workers - 37 percent of the state's workforce - earning less than $15 per hour, according to the National Employment Law Project, which advocates for low-wage workers. Women are disproportionately represented in that low-wage pool, accounting for 53 percent of New York's workforce making less than $15 per hour.
"Income disparity has put the American Dream out of reach for many New Yorkers. Even raising the state's minimum wage to $9 per hour by 2016 will still make it impossible for low-wage workers to meet the basic needs of their families - especially in high-cost areas of our state," said NYSUT President Karen E. Magee.
"Poverty has an especially devastating impact on children, jeopardizing their ability to succeed in the classroom," Magee added. "If we are truly serious about rebuilding the state's economy and ensuring our students have the opportunity to succeed, we must implement policies that provide all New Yorkers with a pathway toward economic mobility."
In April, a letter was sent to the governor and state Legislature signed by 130 female lawmakers and other powerful women from across New York, urging passage of the minimum-wage bill. The effort, which mirrors that of other movements across the country in states such as Washington and Maryland, also has the support of other labor unions beside NYSUT such as the Service Employees International Union as well as a wide range of community groups and faith leaders.
A statewide poll conducted by Siena College in February showed far-reaching support among New York voters for giving municipalities the authority to set their own minimum wage. The poll found 85 percent support among Democrats, 48 percent among Republicans and 74 percent among independents favored the initiative.