New York workers win minimum wage rises

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THREE increases in the minimum wage in New York took place on the last day of 2015, with workers in the fast food industry, tipped positions, and all other industries receiving a higher wage beginning December 31.

‘We’re pleased, we think it’s a good beginning in fact, wages across the board have to go up,’ said Richard Lipsitz, Jr., the president of the AFL-CIO in Buffalo, NY. Unions across the state fought for the pay rise, against groups like the National Restaurant Association.

But earlier this year, the state Department of Labor decided to boost the minimum wage, which stood at $8.75 an hour, up to $9.00 an hour. For fast food workers, their pay rate went up to $9.75 an hour, $10.50 in New York City, with rises over the next five years.

And for tipped workers, like waiters and bartenders, their pay rose from $5.00 an hour to $7.50.

‘No one who works full time should ever be condemned to a life of poverty,’ said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is pledged to push for a $15 statewide minimum wage by 2021.

Speaking last Thursday, Cuomo said: ‘As we prepare to ring in the New Year, we are making a fundamental difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of workers across this state. I am proud to mark these milestones in the fight for fair pay for workers in fast food, tipped industries, and others – but too many home health care workers, airport workers and so many others continue to be left behind. That’s why we will continue fighting for a $15 minimum wage so that all workers can afford a decent life and a decent opportunity in New York State.’

The following minimum wage increases took effect December 31, 2015:

Overall Minimum Wage: In the third of three annual changes secured by Governor Cuomo in 2013, New York State’s minimum wage will be $9.00 per hour. Tipped Hospitality Workers: All tipped workers in the hospitality industry (food service workers, service employees and service employees in resort hotels) will be moved to the same category and rate for tipped cash wage.

Effective December 31, 2015, the tipped cash wage amounts increase from $4.90, $5.00 and $5.65 to $7.50 per hour. Fast Food Workers in fast food chains: In New York City, the minimum wage for workers in fast food chains (30 or more locations nationally) increased to $10.50. For fast food chain workers in the rest of the State, the minimum wage increased to $9.75.

‘The Department of Labor works with employees to help them understand their rights and also works with businesses to ensure they know their responsibilities,’ said Acting State Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon. I strongly encourage anyone with questions to use our Department’s resources to make sure they’re being paid the right wage, or paying workers properly and won’t be penalised.’

The Department of Labor, which enforces the minimum wage law, stated: ‘Failure to comply with increased minimum wages can result in fines, charges and civil or even criminal punishment.’

In five US states and nine cities – including California, New York, Oregon and Washington, D.C. – voters and lawmakers will consider proposals in 2016 to gradually raise minimum wages to $15 an hour. The ballot initiatives and pending legislation will build on momentum from this year, in which 14 states and localities used laws, executive orders and other procedures to lift wages for all or part of their work forces to $15 an hour.

In New York City the minimum wage for workers in fast food and state government rose to $10.50 on New Year’s Eve, and to $15 by the end of 2018. In the rest of New York, the minimum for those workers will reach $15 an hour in mid-2021.

In Los Angeles County, including the city of Los Angeles, the minimum wage for most workers will rise to $10.50 by mid-2016 and to $15 by mid-2020. Seattle and San Francisco are also phasing in citywide minimums of $15 an hour, while five other cities — Buffalo and Rochester in New York; Greensboro, N.C.; Missoula, Mont.; and Pittsburgh — are gradually raising their minimums to $15 for city workers.

Minimum-wage raises are examples of states and cities leading in the absence of leadership by Congress, which has kept the federal minimum at $7.25 an hour since 2009. State and local increases are also potent shapers of public perception. Three years ago a walkout by 200 or so fast-food workers in New York City began the Fight for $15, now a nationwide effort to raise pay and support unions.

Two years ago SeaTac, Wash., home to an international airport, voted in the nation’s first $15-an-hour minimum for some 6,500 workers in the city, on and off airport property. Since then, $15 an hour has gone from a slogan to a benchmark.

• A bargaining committee representing more than 2,100 janitors in Connecticut cities, including New Haven, reached a tentative agreement with cleaning contractors last Wednesday to secure pay increases, according to a release from their union.

The tentative agreement with the Hartford County Cleaning Contractors Association was reached after two rallies in Hartford and New Haven organised by the International Service Employees Union, Local 32BJ, which sought higher wages and protected medical benefits.

The tentative agreement was reached a day before the union’s current contract was set to expire.

The new four-year contract is subject to ratification and includes provisions to increase wages totalling $1.60 an hour in Hartford and its suburbs, and $1.70 in New Haven, according to the release.

The tentative contract also protects health benefits for office cleaners and schools maintenance workers while increasing members’ sick days, according to the release. Juan Hernandez, 32BJ Connecticut district leader, said in the release that they were thrilled to reach an agreement. The union had voted to strike if an agreement was not reached before the December 31st contract expiration.

‘This contract will give our commercial cleaners a fair wage increase, maintains their high quality, employer-paid benefits, and increases their dedicated sick time,’ Hernandez said. This is also a victory for all working people. When we make fundamental service jobs better, we show that together we can change lives and lift families out of poverty and into the middle class.’

Ali Faatth, a father of two who cleans courthouses in New Haven, is pleased with the pact, according to the release. ‘We’re relieved to have a deal on the table that will keep us working and that helps us keep up with rising costs,’ Faatth said. ‘A good contract with fair wages and benefits gives me peace of mind and the ability to take care of my family.’