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Cuomo Rallies In Albany As Battle For Minimum Wage Hike Heats Up

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo greets crowd of union workers after speech on raising  the minimum wage at a rally outside the State Capitol on Tuesday.
Karen Dewitt
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo greets crowd of union workers after speech on raising the minimum wage at a rally outside the State Capitol on Tuesday.

Lobbying for and against the minimum wage is intensifying at the State Capitol, with just over two weeks to go until the budget deadline.

Union workers gathered Tuesday at a rally outside the State Capitol, where the main speaker was Governor Andrew Cuomo.

“We’re going to get a $15 dollar wage passed!” Cuomo shouted.

The governor has been traveling the state to events packed by local Democratic leaders and union members, entering the rallies on a bus paid for by the health care workers' union 1199.

Before the rally, individual workers came to the Capitol, and stood by a display of FDR memorabilia.  The late former governor and President was the first to enact a minimum wage. Etta James, of Schenectady attended with her small child in tow, and says she needs more money to live a good life.

“I would be able to pay my bills without having to choose which ones to pay first ,” said James, who said she’d like to afford day care for her children so that she can work full time.

“I’d be able to just live life with my kids and be happy,” James said.

Opponents of the minimum wage have also been busy trying to get their message out, using social media and a direct email campaign.  

Zack Hutchins, with the Business Council says  the increase will cost over half a million jobs, as smaller businesses have to cut back or simply don’t hire new workers. 

“Those are jobs for low income workers, the very same people that folks rallying today claim to be representing,” Hutchins said.

Greg Biryla, with the pro business group Unshackle Upstate, says 65,000 emails have been sent to legislators in  the past couple of days. Biryla, who formerly worked for the legislature, says they  get lawmakers’ attention.

“You start to take notice when 10, 15 emails come through on the same topic,” Biryla said, “And these are employers in their districts.”

Hutchins, with the Business Council, admits though that the anti minimum wage forces ,which also include farmers and some not for profit groups that provide services to home care or the disabled, are at a distinct disadvantage.

“We are not able to mobilize people in that fashion, “said Hutchins, who says business owners work during the day and “don’t have the ability to come in mass numbers”.

Cuomo, at the rally portrayed the opponents as powerful.

“They’re representing the corporations,” Cuomo said. “And the corporations don’t want to pay a higher wage. It’s that simple.”

And Cuomo argues that taxpayers subsidize businesses by providing welfare benefits and food stamps to low wage workers.

Despite the governor’s focus on the rallies, it’s not certain whether the minimum wage increase will be a part of the state budget. Cuomo himself has said it does not have to be included. While Assembly Democrats enthusiastically back the phased in increase, Senate Republicans did not include the measure in their own house budgets that are being debated this week.

In fact, the Deputy Majority Leader, Senator John DeFrancisco, appeared to take a shot at the governor when he spoke against raising the minimum wage on the Senate floor .

“Just because you say it, and you say it loudly, peaking loudly, doesn’t mean it’s true ,” DeFranciso said.

But Cuomo says he hopes a noisy rally right underneath the Senator’s windows will help change their minds. 

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