From today’s morning memo:
When work started leaking out early this week that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders had reached a tentative deal during the ongoing budget talks to raise the hourly minimum wage to $9 an hour over a three year period, the initial response was a collective shrug of resignation.
No one was terribly happy with the outcome, but no one was terribly surprised, either.
Business groups had long seen the writing on the wall indicating that some version of a minimum wage hike would eventually pass muster with the Senate Republicans, despite all their talk of opposition to these sorts of “job killing” actions.
The phase-in plus a tax credit for businesses that employ teenagers making the minimum wage (as opposed to a so-called “training wage”) plus tax breaks for businesses and a rebate for middle-class taxpayers helped take the sting out of things on the right.
Advocates on the left – including organized labor, religious leaders and liberal Democrats – were disappointed the deal didn’t hike the wage higher (it’s commensurate with what President Obama proposed, but lower than what some, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, see as fair, given the fact that New York’s hourly rate has remained stagnant for so long).
They were also unhappy the final product didn’t include a measure to index future minimum wage increases to the rate of inflation, which was pushed by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and is also included in Obama’s plan and would end the need to have this debate every couple of years.
Overall, though, there seemed to be an initial sense of relief that Cuomo and the leaders had managed to get the minimum wage hike into the budget after so much discussion of dealing with it later in the session. (This is a win for IDC leader Jeff Klein, who pushed hard for budgetary inclusion).
But as more details of the deal were released, criticism started to mount.
Deputy Senate Minority Leader Mike Gianaris was first out of the gate, saying during a Capitol Pressroom interview yesterday morning that the minimum wage deal was “half a loaf” and not the progressive change the IDC-GOP coalition had promised.
The IDC drafted Sen. Dave Valesky to respond with a harshly worded statement deeming Gianaris’ comments “corrosive to the legislative process” and “exactly that type of absolutism that prevented progress in the past.”
But the dam had been breached, and the criticism continued to mount.
Late last night, a storm started brewing among organized labor unions and their allies over the fact that tipped workers – waitresses, chambermaids, and other service industry employees – had been left out of the minimum wage agreement.
These types of workers, who are paid less than the minimum wage by their employers, but see their salaries supplemented by the largesse (or lack thereof) of their customers, have traditionally seen their hourly rates increase at the same percentage as minimum wage employees when state officials strike a deal to boost the wage floor.
But that’s not the case this time – a move apparently made to appease the Senate Republicans, whose leader, Dean Skelos, admitted yesterday that some 50 percent of the minimum wage earners in New York are tipped employees and therefore will receive no benefit at all from this deal.
Strong Economy for All Executive Director Mike Kink told me during a late-night phone call that advocates feel duped by the slight to tipped workers because they were specifically promised when minimum wage talks reached a fevered pitch last weekend that there would be no loopholes left open to prevent the rising tide from lifting all boats.
“This puts a big black mark on what should be a signature accomplishment,” Kink said. “This should have been a good thing for everybody.”
“…Sixty percent of New York City restaurant workers live in poverty. The new wage increase is something that’s supposed to be a victory against income inequality. To cut out the bottom of the bottom is just ridiculous.”
(For the record, for those who believe Kink, a former Senate Democratic staff, is little more than a tool of his former employers, he notes that his two-year ban on lobbying the Legislature is still in place).
Word around the Capitol was that one of the most powerful service workers unions – at least as far as NYC is concerned – the Hotel Trades Council – had given the green light to this agreement.
But I reached HTC political director Josh Gold, who indicated that was far from true, sending the following statement bright and early this morning:
“HTC strongly supports an increase in the minimum wage for ALL workers, including the $1.21 increase for tipped employees.”
“While this is a small first step that will hopefully slow the growing rise of income inequality in New York – the best way to lift more Americans into the middle class is by making it easier to join a union, so that more workers can collectively bargain for fair wages.”
Meanwhile, a new Q poll out this morning continues to find strong support (80-18) among New York voters for raising the minimum wage. Forty-nine percent of those polled said they’d like to see the wage boosted to higher than $8.50 an hour.
The specific question about tipped employees and whether they deserve a raise, too, wasn’t asked.
This might be one of those split-the-baby moments where advocates and their elected official allies have to decide between blowing up a deal and avoiding letting the perfect be the enemy of the good by settling for, as Gianaris put it, “half a loaf.”
Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins signaled the latter during a CapTon interview last night (find the link below). But she also said that while she’ll be seeking consensus within her conference on budget bills, she won’t try to mandate an all-for-one-and-one-for-all vote.
It remains to be seen whether labor will be able to influence this discussion at all. Budget talks appear to be at a temporary standstill at the moment. So perhaps there’s still time to undo what has already been done.
In the end, however, where will labor go? The best unions can threaten is to run left-leaning primary candidates against incumbent Democrats come 2014, and while that strategy has worked in the NYC Council, it’s far more difficult to execute with a 213-seat body like the state Legislature – not to mention the governor’s office.
|Print article||This entry was posted by Liz Benjamin on March 20, 2013 at 8:47 am, and is filed under Minimum Wage. Follow any responses to this post through RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.|