It's Time to Raise the Wage

We're on a roll. In the last few weeks, those of us fighting to get economic justice for low-paid workers and for raising the minimum wage have scored some big wins.

The battle has been going on for some time, but it really got a boost on Martin Luther King Day, when more than 30 elected officials got arrested for performing an act of civil disobedience by sitting down in the middle of a bridge leading to LaGuardia Airport and refused to move -- and I am proud to say that UnitedNY played a key role in galvanizing support, turning people out and coordinating with other involved groups.

The media jumped all over that story and the next day the New York Daily News launched a fair pay campaign on behalf of some 12,000 contracted workers at the three New York City area airports, who make poverty wages and have no benefits. The reaction was swift.

Patrick Foye, who heads the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the airports, fired off a letter to four major airlines instructing them to raise the salary of every worker earning $9 or less an hour by $1 and eventually to $10.10. Delta quickly agreed. But the others did not. Foye then sent another letter to the other three airlines -- JetBlue, American and United -- threatening to boot them from the New York Airports unless they agreed to the wage hike. Talk about playing hardball!

But as we all know too well, the battle is never over. Now we are marshaling our forces to push for New York City to have the right to set its own minimum wage. It's an idea that makes sense in a city with a high cost of living -- and it's been done in San Francisco, Washington, San Jose and Santa Fe and is under serious consideration in Chicago and Seattle. New York City's minimum wage is a paltry $8 an hour, compared to $10.74 in San Francisco, $10.51 in Santa Fe and $15 an hour in the Washington town where Sea Tac airport is located.

A coalition of elected officials, workers, clergy, community groups such as UnitedNY, New York Communities for Change, the Working Families Party, Make the Road, and Strong Economy for All and labor organizations like 32BJ and 1199 of the Service Employees International Union is organizing a statewide coalition from Buffalo to Brooklyn to get better pay for workers who are working full-time but still struggling to support their families.

We at UnitedNY, along with others, are urging the State Legislature to let high-cost areas around the state lift fast food, airport, car wash and other low-wage workers out of poverty and into the middle class through local wage authorization. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Comptroller Scott Stringer and many Council members have voiced support for letting the city control its minimum wage. The legislation, known as Raise Up NY, is sponsored by State Senate Democratic leader Andrea Stewart Cousins and Assembly Labor Committee Chair Carl Heastie, and the Black and Latino Caucus, whose chairman, Karim Camara, says the legislation is among the caucus's top priorities for this session.

Raising wages and ending inequality is a key issue for progressives -- President Obama and House Democrats have said it's their top priority for 2014.

We believe that allowing NYC and other high-cost areas across the state to enact a higher local minimum wage is the single most impactful policy Albany can pursue to get the state's economy moving again -- lifting wages for more than 1 million workers in NYC alone.

A healthy economy depends on businesses that pay their workers enough to get by -- whether they live in rural upstate or an expensive NYC suburb. But that wage doesn't need to be the same in every city, which is why empowering local governments to do what they know works for their local economy is so important.

Public Support is behind us and studies show raising the minimum will not cost jobs or shrink the economy. In fact it will grow the economy because who make more spend more.

Just like the airports campaign, this is a fight we can win.