NEW YORK – Raising the minimum wage, currently $5.15 an hour, will be the top legislative priority for this state’s Working Families Party, said Dwight Loines, political director of United Auto Workers Region 9A Community Action Program Council and executive committee member of the WFP at a press conference organized by community groups on the steps of City Hall here Jan. 29.

“This year, the WFP will not settle for words of support. Working families can’t accept anything less than passage of a bill,” he said.

The minimum wage bill that passed the Assembly four years ago has been stalled in the Senate. The coalitions are urging state Sen. Olga A. Mendez of the Bronx to put together a enough votes to push this bill through.

The federal minimum wage, currently $5.15 an hour, is not indexed to preserve its purchasing power and has not been raised since 1997. According to the Fiscal Policy Institute, the inflation-adjusted value of the minimum wage is approaching its lowest point in a half-century. One million New York workers would benefit immediately from the passage of this bill, said Pete Sikora of the New York State Public Research Interest Group.

James Parrot of the Fiscal Policy Institute said that the poverty rate among working families has doubled in the last 20 years. Too many employers pay their workers minimum wage or below, he said, and thus have an advantage over employers who pay decent wages. “Increasing the minimum wage is probably the single best thing that Albany can do this year for low-income and immigrant communities,” he concluded.

Loines pointed out that taxpayers are subsidizing those employers who pay minimum wage.

Ashor Blake, a member of Community Voices Heard, is a minimum wage worker raising two children. At the press conference she said it is impossible to pay her bills without public assistance. She presented her budget: rent $1,200, utilities $300, transportation $70. There is no money for childcare, she said. Maria Amiaga, of Make the Road by Walking, said that immigrant workers sometimes don’t get paid at all, even after toiling long hours.

The coalitions are pushing for a $7 dollar minimum wage, which would match some of the twelve other states that have raised their minimum wage above the federal level.

The author can be reached at gfalsetta@pww.org.

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