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#FightFor15 Goes To New York's Wage Board

The Fight For 15 campaign could see results today. The board considering a minimum wage increase for New York's fast-food workers has begun public deliberations on the issue.

New York's minimum wage is $8.75 and set to rise to $9 at year's end. But workers who earn the minimum wage have been adamant that it isn't enough.

On May 7th, Governor Andrew Cuomo directed Acting State Labor Commissioner Mario Musolino to empanel a Wage Board to investigate and make recommendations on an increase in the minimum wage in the fast food industry.

Workers have organized and demonstrated to seta new nationwide standard.

Mark Emanatian, Capital District Organizer for Citizen Action, says two weeks ago, nearly 500 workers rallied in Manhattan, demanding a $15 minimum wage before spilling into a hearing.  "47 fast food workers testified about how hard their lives are and how hard they work and how hard it is to make ends meet at that hearing."

Robert Godfrey, a full-time McDonald's employee and full-time college student, told the panel:  "I'm fighting for a fair wage because big companies want workers to treat customers with respect, but they don't treat their employees with respect. You're paying us a minimum wage. That's a joke."

Emanatian was hoping Monday’s meeting will be a turning point for the #FightFor15 movement and those who gave testimony. "It led the wage board, who has now completed the four public hearings, to move up the schedule and have this meeting here in Albany."

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul was set to rally with the fast food workers prior to the meeting, which could signal the board will recommend a wage hike.

Emanation says everything happening now results from a law that was passed when Franklin Roosevelt was governor during the Depression.  "It was set up that when the legislature wouldn't act to raise the wages of working people, the wage board was set up by legislation to look into conditions of certain workers in certain sectors of the economy, to see if their health and well-being was taken care of by the wages they were getting. And so, it's a 63-year-old law that Governor Cuomo enacted last year to take a look at people in the tipped worker industry, and the wage board raised their wages from $5 to $7.50.  This year, the governor, in response to the great amount of pressure and strikes that these workers have done in last two years in New York State and around the country and around the world, set the tip board when there was inaction from the legislature to raise wages, they set up this board to take a look into the living conditions of people that work in this industry, and to then make a recommendation to the department of labor's commissioner to raise these people's wages."

The Business Council of New York State says it "believes that the state’s long-term future requires improvements in the state’s overall economic competitiveness.  Imposing significant new costs on employers, including new or increased wage mandates, is contrary to achieving that objective."

According to data released by the State Labor Commission, 60 percent of fast food workers in New York are in families getting public assistance and wages for many are insufficient to provide adequate maintenance and protect their health.

Emanation says if the board does finalize a recommendation, that recommendation will then go to New York's Commissioner of Labor, which will make the final decision.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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