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DeFrancisco front & center in debate over raising the minimum wage

Ellen Abbott
State Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco speaking about the minimum wage in Syracuse Friday.

A proposal to raise New York’s minimum wage is taking center stage in this year’s budget negotiations in Albany. And with just over three weeks left before a budget deadline, the stakes are getting higher and noise on both sides is getting louder.  

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is leading the charge to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. He’s taken his campaign across the state in a red, white and blue RV with the words “Drive for $15” emblazoned across its side.  

"It’s not a mathematical equation, it’s about principals, it’s about values, and it’s about one word, fairness,” the governor said to applause at a rally in Solvay last week that was part of his statewide tour about the issue.

Cuomo’s got the Assembly and powerful unions behind him. According to published reports, the Service Employees International Union alone is committing $2-3 million on a campaign to get New Yorkers to support what leaders call “a moral imperative.” Unions have been sponsoring Fight for 15 rallies across the state, and are involved in organizations like the Central New York Fight for $15 Coalition. Chair Jerry Lotierzo says a $15 minimum wage would make a big difference in the everyday lives of the working poor.

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO News
Chair Jerry Lotierzo of the Central New York Fight for $15 Coalition in Syracuse Sunday.

"Instead of a cold water shower, they take a hot water shower. Instead of waiting to pay their electric bill, they can pay it on time. Instead of collecting food stamps, instead of collecting welfare, they don’t have to do that. They’re saving the government and us money, by not having to use a safety net. For us it’s a no brainer,” said Lotierzo.

The coalition’s latest tactic is a challenge to local elected officials and community leaders to live for a week on $9 an hour. DeWitt Town Councilor Kerin Rigney is accepting the challenge.

"I would like to stand in solidarity for all those people out there who are really struggling to get by on minimum wage. And honestly there’s a reason we have a minimum wage. A long time ago, because workers were being held down and were not able to take care of their families and we’re back at the same place now," said Rigney.

The one thing that’s stopping this proposal from being a slam dunk:  the Republican-controlled state Senate.  

So it’s no surprise a new campaign targets the second most-powerful member of the Senate, Syracuse-area Republican John DeFrancisco, a vocal opponent of the increase.

"It’s nice to say to everyone you’re going to help the poor, you’re going do the best you can, you’re going to make everyone happy. And provide largesse for everyone. The fact of the matter is, if that actually happens, jobs are lost, and that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever,” said DeFrancisco

DeFrancisco is now being called the “Six Million Dollar Man” in a digital campaign that pastes his face and estimated worth in banner ads across Facebook and other websites, and claims that a vote to raise the minimum wage would help nearly 100,000 central New Yorkers.

"If I was worth nothing, my assets were worth nothing, does that in anyway mean that I’m in some way more apt to be believed?”

So DeFrancisco has gone on a counter-offensive, to as he says, put logic into the argument, something he says is missing. He’s gathered businesses, and not-for-profits to explain what the increase would mean for them.

Skaneateles dairyman Marcus Richards is one of them. Richards figures he would have to invest in automation and be forced to lay off up to ten workers if the minimum wage was raised to $15 an hour.

"How am I able to make a product, that can be made in Pennsylvania that can pay its labor $7.25 an hour, and be competitive trying to sell into the same markets, when I have to pay my guys double that. It just doesn’t work,” said Richards.

So at this point, what are the chances of the Senate siding with the governor, the Assembly and the Fight for 15 organizations, to bring all of New York state into the $15 minimum wage movement? Defransisco believes senators won’t support it, but is not taking any chances.

“The reason I want to be in a position to get the word spread a little better is, we got three weeks left. And people better start talking to their representatives.”

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.