Nation’s top Dems take notice of NY’s wage hike, family leave

Cuomo - min wage sign


Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law Monday a plan that would raise the minimum wage in New York to $15 an hour and provide paid family leave, as a part of the 2016-2017 enacted budget.

The plan, which is being hailed as a model for the nation among leaders in the Democratic Party, requires the minimum wage to reach $15 an hour by the start of 2019 in New York City and 2022 for Long Island and Westchester County. The rest of the state will see an increase to $12.50 an hour by 2021 and eventually rise to $15 on a still-undetermined schedule.

The paid family leave plan allows time off for new parents, as well as for those who need to take care of a sick family member or handle responsibilities if someone is called to active military service. At the start of 2018, workers will be able take up to eight weeks off, at 50 percent of their weekly pay. By 2021 they will get up to 12 weeks off at two-thirds pay, provided they have worked for their employer for at least six months.

Businesses will not have to pay for the program as it will be funded by a weekly payroll tax of about $1 per employee.

Accompanied by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Cuomo addressed more than 1,000 workers in New York City shortly after signing the bill, crediting his late father and former New York Governor Mario Cuomo for starting the fight for “economic justice.”

“Mario Cuomo said the economy doesn’t work for any of us until it works for all of us,” Cuomo said. “That the greatest feast is the feast where the most people share in that feast. That was his vision for New York.”

Cuomo said his father was “smiling today because he is proud of the example this state has set, for the people of this state and the people of this nation.”

Cuomo has received praise from leaders in the Democratic Party, including the President himself, for pushing these two programs this session.

President Barack Obama commended Cuomo and New York legislators for the plan in a statement, calling it a “historic step” and called on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage and expand access to paid leave.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders also praised New York lawmakers for the historic measure.

“Not too long ago, the establishment told us that a $15 minimum wage was unrealistic,” Sanders said in a statement this week. “Some thought it was ‘pie-in-the-sky.’ But a grassroots movement led by millions of working people refused to take ‘no’ for an answer.”

The grassroots effort Sanders refers to started in 2012 when hundreds of fast-food workers went on strike in New York City. The movement, which would become known as “Fight for 15” spread to other cities in the nation and spurred California lawmakers to adopt a plan to increase its minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The minimum wage hike received bipartisan support in the Senate, passing 61-1. It wasn’t greeted as warmly in the Assembly, where it passed 104 to 39, with all but four Republicans voting against the measure.

While the plan is popular among progressive New York politicians and activists, not everyone is happy.

Assemblyman Stephen Hawley, R-Batavia, said the minimum wage hike “will destroy New York’s already-ailing business community” and the paid family leave plan “will be ripe with abuse and cause labor costs to skyrocket.”

Assemblyman Charles Barron, D-Brooklyn, called the wage hike “a great day for the workers in this state” but said the increase still wouldn’t be enough to get workers out of poverty.

“We need a living wage,” Barron said. “Fifteen dollars an hour is $30,000 dollars a year. Try making $30,000 a year in New York City; you would still be the working poor.”
As the law was passed, Cuomo has the ability to pause the wage hike if economists decide it is hurting New York’s economic growth.