ALBANY, N.Y. – With a big shove from labor unions, New York City community groups and Fight for 15 activists, the New York legislature raised the state’s minimum wage for many workers in the state to $15 an hour by the end of 2018. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed the law on April 4.
The measure, part of the state budget, also phases in 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, the most-generous such law in the U.S., the governor’s office said. That requirement will be phased in through 2021.
The minimum wage hike varies with the size of the business and the region of the state. Businesses with at least 11 workers and in the Big Apple would have to raise their minimum to $15 by the end of 2018. Small businesses in the city would have to do so by the end of 2019.
All businesses on Long Island and in Westchester County would have to raise the wage to $15 by the end of 2021, while those in the rest of the state would have to raise it to $12.50 by the end of 2020, with a state board deciding on increases after that.
State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento lauded federation members and union locals who lobbied for the minimum wage hike and the paid family leave law. Both measures “are critically important to working people,” Cilento said. He estimated three million New Yorkers would benefit from raising the minimum wage.
“Raising the minimum wage is long overdue and is a step in the right direction toward addressing poverty and income inequality. This meaningful wage will allow hard-working men and women the opportunity to better support themselves and their families, and enjoy a standard of living and quality of life they can be proud of,” he declared.
And extending paid family leave – an issue, like raising the minimum wage, that ruling Republicans have deep-sixed in D.C. – “will have a positive impact on working people by allowing them to put their families first during times of need,” Cilento added.
“Whether it is to bond with a newborn or the opportunity to care for an ill or dying family member, working men and women will no longer be forced to choose between being with loved ones during life-changing moments, and the ability to make ends meet.”
Other states and cities are also moving ahead on paid leave. In 2004, California became the first state in the nation to offer paid parental benefits under the California Paid Family Leave program, which is funded by workers themselves. San Francisco created six weeks of paid leave for new parents in a unanimous vote by the city’s Board of Supervisors on April 5. That day, the Democratic-run Maryland House of Delegates OKed a 7-day paid leave measure.
In New York, the Democratic-run State Assembly voted for raising the minimum wage 104-39, while the split State Senate agreed, 61-1. All but three Assembly “no” votes came from Republicans, while the sole senator opposing the raise was Simcha Felder, D-Brooklyn.
Cuomo and legislative leaders inserted the minimum wage hike and the family leave law into their state budget agreement, announced April 1. New York thus joined California, on the same day, in raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour.
The wage hikes in the two states are significant because California is the nation’s most-populous state, housing one of every eight U.S. residents, and New York is fourth in population. They join an increasing list of states that, tired of GOP-ordered dysfunction in D.C., have raised their minimums. New York’s minimum is now $9 an hour.
The federal minimum wage, at $7.25 hourly, has not been raised since the GOP George W. Bush administration. Congress’ ruling Republicans have defeated repeated Democratic and labor attempts to increase the wage.
“In a time defined by vitriolic hyper-partisanship and when people have lost faith in their government’s fundamental ability to address the critical challenges of our time – in particular, growing income inequality in our country-New York State has once again come together to get things done,” Cuomo said when unveiling the minimum wage agreement before passage.
“Many have proposed the big changes we sought – minimum wage, meaningful paid family leave, a balanced budget that caps spending and cuts taxes – but almost all have failed. With this agreement, we have succeeded.
“We believe that people who work hard should be able to earn a decent living and sup-port a family with dignity. With a statewide $15 minimum wage and the nation’s only 12-week paid family leave we are going to prove that the economy can and should work for all.”
Photo: New York State AFL-CIO