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NYSNYS NEWS: Advocates say no to legislative pay raise without a hike in the minimum wage for working poor.
NYSNYS NEWS: Advocates say no to legislative pay raise without a hike in the minimum wage for working poor.

By Kyle Hughes

ALBANY, N.Y. (November 25) Advocates said Tuesday raising the minimum wage for New York's working poor should be part of any deal to raise the pay of legislators and other state officials before the end of the year.

On Thanksgiving, "as our elected officials gather with their families around tables to give thanks we hope that they will remember that many of the people they are charged to represent have worked hard (and) many of their people have to work every day this week," said Rev. Frances Rosenau of the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Albany. "Many of these people have struggled throughout the year and remain hungry (legislators) have the power to change this by raising the minimum wage."

"Refusing to pay people a living wage is part of a system that oppresses and disenfranchises particularly black and brown people," said Rev. Joseph Cleveland of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Saratoga Springs and Interfaith Impact of NYS. "To allow wages that won't cover costs for housing or childcare, for food, for healthcare, is unjust and uncaring."

Members of the coalition of labor unions, activists and religious leaders said the scheduled December 31 increase of the minimum wage to $8.75 an hour is not enough. They also criticized the fact that tipped workers are not getting an increase, with food service workers still earning $5 an hour.

"In Albany County, each parent in a dual earning household must earn $18.71/hour or $38,916 annually to fully support themselves and two children," they said in a statement released to reporters. "A single parent with two children must earn $28.67 or $59,633."

Proposals for raising the minimum wage have ranged from increasing it to about $10 per hour to $15 or more, with some calling for indexing future increases to inflation.

Legislative leaders have endorsed a pay raise, but have not yet scheduled a special session to take up the issue. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not endorsed a pay increase for legislators, but has said that pay scales are too low for his appointees.

Legislators now make $79,500 a year for the part time job, along with $172 a day unvouchered per diem expenses when they are in Albany or traveling on official business. They have not had a pay raise since 1999, and must approve a raise before the end of the year for it to take effect in 2015.

Many legislators unfavorably compare their pay to the $112,500 salaries earned by members of the New York City Council.

"To vote themselves a pay raise without first increasing the New York state minimum wage would be nothing short of unconscionable," said Bill Ritchie, a union leader who is also president of the Albany Central Federation of Labor.