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336Hunger Action: Cuomo should hike Min Wage Unilaterally via labor law

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  • Dunleamark@aol.com
    May 18, 2012

      Hunger Action Network of New York State



      Media Release


      For Immediate Release: May 18, 2012
      For More Information: Mark Dunlea, 518 434-7371 xt 1#


      Hunger Action Says Cuomo Should Use Labor Law to Unilaterally Raise the State Minimum Wage


      (Albany, NY) Hunger Action Network of NYS today called upon Governor Cuomo to use his administrative powers under the state labor law (Sec. 653) to raise the minimum wage without the need for legislative approval.
      “New Yorkers overwhelming agree that it is time to give poor workers a pay hike. If the Governor is unwilling to use his formidable political skills to forge an agreement with Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, state labor law gives him the power and responsibility to act to ensure a living wage for workers. Pursuant to a petition that Hunger Action Network has already filed, all Cuomo has to do is declare that the minimum wage is too low to provide for the maintenance and health of workers, convene a minimum wage board and within 45 days he can order the minimum wage raised to $10 an hour or whatever he feels is justified,” noted Mark Dunlea, Executive Director of Hunger Action Network of NYS.
      Hunger Action Network represents the state’s 3,000 food pantries and soup kitchens, which feed an estimated 3 million New Yorkers annually – a 60% increase over the last four years. As many as 40% of such guests are the working poor. As a result, Hunger Action has often been the first group to publicly call for a hike in the minimum wage.
      Recent news reports have stated the effort to raise the state minimum wage, despite massive public support, is dead due to the opposition of the Senate Republican Majority.
      Raising the minimum wage administratively would be similar to the step Governor Cuomo took recently to create a health exchange by Executive Order after the Senate refused to take action.
      “If the Democrats want to use this fall’s election as a referendum on the minimum wage, we think the better approach would be for see if voters approve of an actual pay hike Cuomo gave to low-income workers. Base the vote on action, not inaction. That way the bottom line is that poor workers have more money in their pockets, which is good both for them and for the economy. Let’s not once again make poor workers the victims of political gamesmanship at the Capitol,” added Dunlea. 
      Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has said that raising the state minimum wage to $8.50 is his top priority. The Speaker however has said that the minimum wage should stand on its own merits – a position not normally taken in the state legislative process, where every issue is subject to be traded for action on other, unrelated issues. This follows on the decision not to include the wage hike in the recent budget deal negotiations.
      “While it is refreshing to hear state lawmakers talk about the need for more integrity in the political process, at the same time we were taught in civics class in elementary school that politics is the art of compromise. That is why we learnt about Henry Clay. If the Assembly suddenly wants to develop a new approach to lawmaking (aka making sausages), they should experiment on something other than the paycheck of the lowest-paid workers,” added Dunlea.
      Some Senate Republicans have recently told Reform Jewish Voices and NYS Interfaith Impact that they prefer raising the state Earned Income Tax Credit rather than the minimum wage, since the benefits would be targeted to adults who most need it. Hunger Action said do both.
      “Let’s create a win-win for legislators: raise the EITC to make the Republicans happy, raise the minimum wage for the Democrats, and allow low-income workers to benefit from both approaches. The reality is that the vast majority of minimum wage workers are adults, something the Republicans tend to deny. And while the EITC is a form of taxpayer subsidy to the low-wage corporate economy, and should have been included in the budget if the Republicans are serious, it does help workers. Raising the minimum wage at the same time would decrease the cost of the tax subsidy while increasing the tax revenues from the higher pay,” added Dunlea.
      As part of its 30th anniversary, Hunger Action is honoring Frank Mauro of the Fiscal Policy Institute next Tuesday for his work on economic justice issues such as the minimum wage. Hunger Action said it would be happy to provide time for the Governor to speak at the event to announce that he had ruled that the minimum wage was inadequate and that he was convening a wage board to approve a hike.
      A survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 67% of Americans favor hiking the minimum wage to $10. Even a majority of Republicans -- 51% -- favor the higher minimum wage. An April 4, 2012 poll of NYS voters by Quinnipiac showed that an overwhelming majority (78 - 20 percent) support raising the minimum wage. Among those who support raising the minimum wage, 37 percent of voters support raising it to $8.50 per hour, with 52 percent supporting an even higher minimum wage
      Unfortunately, raising the state minimum wage to $8.50 an hour would still leave it below its historical standard of raising a full time worker with 2 dependents to the federal poverty level. To provide an income equal to the federal poverty level of $18,530 for a family of three would require $8.90 an hour. If the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation over the last 40 years, today it would about $10.80 per hour. 
      The labor department process to hike the minimum wage is triggered by submitting a petition by at least fifty low-income workers, which Hunger Action did during the last year of the Paterson administration. Paterson failed to take action. Hunger Action has met with the Labor Department since Cuomo took office but were told that any decision to act on the minimum wage petition would have to come from “the second floor.” Hunger Action has also discussed the petition issue with Alphonso David, the Governor’s Deputy Secretary for Civil Rights.
      Hunger Action and labor groups also submitted a minimum wage petition during the last year of Mario Cuomo’s administration. The day before Governor Pataki was sworn in, outgoing Labor Commissioner John Hudacs ruled the minimum wage was inadequate. When new Labor Commissioner John Sweeney refused to convene a minimum wage Board, Hunger Action and others sued the Pataki administration. The court ruled that Sweeney had the right to conduct his own investigation, which he claimed he was doing. Sweeney never announced the completion of his own investigation.
      The State Labor Department apparently recently used the administrative procedure to raise the state minimum wage by 10 cents to bring it in line with the federal minimum wage. Most, but not all, workers receive the higher of the federal or state minimum wage.
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