Governor Andrew M. Cuomo of New York Embraces the “Fight for $15” Campaign

Update: see previous post – June 30, 2015 Alberta: To Raise Minimum Wage to $15/hr by 2018

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo pushed a $15 state minimum wage on Thursday at an event with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo pushed a $15 state minimum wage on Thursday at an event with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times

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With Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. at his side, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York presented himself as a champion of the working class on Thursday, pledging to campaign for a statewide minimum wage of $15 an hour.

Mr. Cuomo’s proposal, which would require legislative approval in Albany, was another pivot by the governor on the issue of mandating how much employers can pay their workers. Just six months ago, he said $15 an hour, the minimum that fast-food workers demanded, was “too high,” and proposed $10.50 as an alternative.

But on Thursday, surrounded by hundreds of supportive union members in a convention hall in Manhattan, Mr. Cuomo said he would carry the banner for a $15 minimum wage, which would be more than double the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. Several cities, including Los Angeles and Seattle, have laid plans to raise their minimum wages to $15, but no state has gone that far.

Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, said that New York, which he called the “progressive capital of this nation,” should lead the way in setting a minimum wage that would provide workers with a decent standard of living. As a rhetorical flourish, he evoked the memory of his father, former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, and a speech he delivered at the 1984 Democratic National Convention.

Quoting his father’s allusion to the despair of the working poor and unemployed, Mr. Cuomo said that raising the minimum wage broadly would restore dignity to workers who could not support their families without public subsidies. “It will herald a new economic contract with America and it’s about time,” he said.

Mr. Cuomo announced that the state’s acting labor commissioner, Mario J. Musolino, had signed an order that would raise the minimum wage for many fast-food workers in the state to $15 an hour over a few years. Having engineered that increase, the governor vowed to shoulder the bigger task of persuading lawmakers to extend the increases to all workers in the state.

Mr. Biden said that Mr. Cuomo’s embrace of the “Fight for $15” campaign would have “a profound impact” and would cause other governors to consider following suit. But the vice president stopped short of saying the Obama administration would join in. He affirmed that President Obama was pressing Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour, an initiative that Republicans in Washington have strongly opposed.

Restaurant industry groups and other business associations argue that raising the minimum wage hurts workers by forcing employers to cut payrolls. They say many of the businesses that pay wages at or near the minimum are small, family-owned establishments that cannot absorb big increases in labor costs.

Mr. Biden said that Mr. Cuomo’s embrace of the “Fight for $15” campaign would have “a profound impact” and would cause other governors to consider following suit. But the vice president stopped short of saying the Obama administration would join in. He affirmed that President Obama was pressing Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour, an initiative that Republicans in Washington have strongly opposed.
U.S. Vice-President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said that Governor Andrew M. Cuomo of New York’s embrace of the “Fight for $15” campaign would have “a profound impact” and would cause other governors to consider following suit. But the vice president stopped short of saying the Obama administration would join in. He affirmed that President Obama was pressing Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour, an initiative that Republicans in Washington have strongly opposed. $15 an hour is more than double the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. Federal Governor Cuomo’s proposal would require legislative approval in Albany.

But Mr. Biden said the administration believed that raising the wages of the lowest-paid workers would add to economic growth because those workers would spend their additional income and that spending would “ripple” through the economy. “Guess what happens?” Mr. Biden said. “You raise everybody up.”

Progressive leaders celebrated Mr. Cuomo’s announcement. Bill Lipton, New York state director of the Working Families Party, said, “If Gov. Cuomo wins $15 statewide, it will be one for the history books, no exaggeration.”

 Adjusted for inflation, $15 an hour is exactly what Henry Ford paid his workers over 100 years ago. Ford famously decided in 1914 to raise his workers’ wages to $5 a day while cutting the workday from nine hours to eight. Five dollars in 1914 has the same buying power as $119.32 in 2015. Divided by eight, that’s $14.92 an hour. When Ford made his announcement, the New York Times proclaimed that “The theory of the management at Ford Motor Company is distinctly Utopian and runs dead against all experience.”
Adjusted for inflation, $15 an hour is exactly what Henry Ford paid his workers over 100 years ago.
Ford famously decided in 1914 to raise his workers’ wages to $5 a day while cutting the workday from nine hours to eight. Five dollars in 1914 has the same buying power as $119.32 in 2015. Divided by eight, that’s $14.92 an hour.
When Ford made his announcement, the New York Times proclaimed that “The theory of the management at Ford Motor Company is distinctly Utopian and runs dead against all experience.”

But Republicans in Albany do not see a $15 minimum wage as inevitable. They agreed to phase in an increase in the state’s minimum wage to $9 next year, from $8.75 now. They rejected Mr. Cuomo’s earlier push for $10.50.

State Senator Jack M. Martins, a Republican and chairman of the Senate Labor Committee, held a hearing in Albany on Thursday about the panel appointed by Mr. Cuomo that recommended raising the minimum for fast-food workers to $15. He said many owners of fast-food franchises were “scared” and “concerned as to their ability to stay open.”

“I really don’t know what happened between $10.50 six months ago and $15 now,” Mr. Martins said. “What’s the significance of $15? In my mind, it’s a political number. The governor has not established $15 as a fair number.”

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