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Local officials and organizers rally to raise the minimum wage


From left to right, panelists Pete Meyers, founder and coordinator of the Tompkins County Workers’ Center, Yolanda Joseph, a local teacher’s aide, Lea Webb, New York State Senator Candidate, and State Assemblymember Anna Kelles listen to City Councilor Jorge DeFendi speak. (Source: Eva Salzman)

As inflation continues to increase, elected officials and organizers in Tompkins County have been pushing for a higher minimum wage to compensate for the rising cost of living.

On Oct. 13, the Tompkins County Workers’ Center (TCWC) and statewide laborers’ coalition, Raise Up NY hosted a panel with elected officials and organizers. The collaboration was to help garner local support for the reintroduction of legislation that would index the New York state minimum wage.

The Federal Reserve identifies Tompkins County as having higher income inequality than the rest of the upstate region — and TCWC wants to change this. According to its website, TCWC’s Community Union Organizers are working on “building support for a living wage for all, as well as improving benefits and working conditions for low-wage workers in the local retail and service sectors.” The leadership group, composed of consumers and workers from retail and service sectors, want to “raise the bar of what such workers should expect in terms of pay and treatment.”

What is the bill?

The legislation (S3062C/A7503B) would establish an annual minimum wage increase that would adjust for inflation each year. Raise Up NY said this is to ensure that “these increases happen automatically, rather than be left at the mercy of political winds and legislative fights every few years.”

New York state’s minimum wage will reach $14.20 per hour by the end of the year and continue to increase until it reaches $15 per hour — but the bill would eliminate this fixed ceiling. The bill was stalled in 2022, but Senator Jessica Ramos and Assemblywoman Latoya Joyner are pushing to reintroduce it in 2023 with the help of organizers like TCWC.

Local effects

Stephanie Heslop, a barista at Starbucks and organizer with local Starbucks Workers United, also spoke on the panel. Heslop asserted that the minimum wage is a poverty wage and that, as a low-wage worker herself, she knows that these jobs do not pay enough for their workers to survive.

“Everyone deserves to live with dignity and there’s no justification for working people in this very wealthy state, in this extremely wealthy country, to not make enough money to live,” Heslop said.

The current minimum wage in upstate New York is $13.20 per hour and though it will rise, County Legislator Anne Koreman said at the panel that the eventual $15 wage still won’t be enough for upstate New Yorkers.

“When we do eventually go up to say, $14.21, the local living wage for this area is $16.61,” Koreman said. “That doesn’t mean that you can actually live off of $16.61 an hour, but the difference between those [wages] is $5,000. … And without that $5,000, what do you have to get rid of first, health care? Healthy food?”

Locals gather Oct. 13 at Plumbers and Pipefitters to hear elected officials and organizers speak. (Source: Eva Salzman)

A community of support

TCWC organizers want to make sure that the bill will have the support of Tompkins County residents. Lea Webb, New York State Senator Candidate, said this kind of community mobilization is the reason there is a minimum wage in the first place and that this is how small communities can make legislative change.

“The fact that we actually have minimum wage … took an organized movement of concerned residents and leaders,” Webb said. “They came together to say, ‘not only do we need to have fair wages, but we deserve it.’”

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    Gordon MappesNov 3, 2022 at 9:39 am

    Great job!
    Very informative with to the point reporting.