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Politics and Government

Battle for minimum wage increase heats up

Jenna Flanagan
Innovation Trail/WMHT
Gov. Andrew Cuomo addressing a rally on the Capitol steps Tuesday calling for raising the minimum wage.

Lobbying for and against the minimum wage is intensifying in Albany, with just over two weeks to go until the budget deadline.

Union workers gathered at a rally outside the Capitol, where the main speaker was Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“We’re going to get a $15 minimum wage passed!” Cuomo shouted.

The governor has been traveling the state to events packed by local Democratic leaders and union members, entering the rallies on a bus paid for by the health care workers union 1199.

Credit Karen DeWitt / WRVO News
Gov. Cuomo greets crowd of union workers after the minimum wage rally.

Before the rally, individual workers came to the Capitol, and stood by a display of Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorabilia.  The late former governor and president was the first to enact a minimum wage. Etta James, of Schenectady, attended with her small child in tow, says she needs more money to live a good life.

“I would be able to pay my bills without having to choose which ones to pay first,” said James, who added that she wold like to afford day care for her children so that she can work full time.

“I’d be able to just live life with my kids and be happy,” James said.

Opponents of the minimum wage have also been busy trying to get their message out, using social media and a direct email campaign.   

Zack Hutchins, with the Business Council of New York State, says  the increase will cost over half a million jobs, as smaller businesses have to cut back or simply don’t hire new workers.  

“Those are jobs for low income workers, the very same people that folks rallying today claim to be representing,” Hutchins said.

Greg Biryla, with the pro-business group Unshackle Upstate, says 65,000 emails have been sent to legislators in  the past couple of days. Biryla, who formerly worked for the legislature, says they  get lawmakers’ attention.

“You start to take notice when 10, 15 emails come through on the same topic,” Biryla said. “And these are employers in their districts.”

But Hutchins admits that the anti-minimum wage forces, which also include farmers and some not-for-profit groups that provide services, like home care for the disabled, are at a distinct disadvantage.

“We are not able to mobilize people in that fashion," said Hutchins, who says business owners work during the day and “don’t have the ability to come in mass numbers.”

At the rally, Cuomo portrayed the opponents as powerful.

“They’re representing the corporations,” Cuomo said. “And the corporations don’t want to pay a higher wage. It’s that simple.”

And Cuomo argues that taxpayers subsidize businesses by providing welfare benefits and food stamps to low wage workers.

Despite the governor’s focus on the rallies, it’s not certain whether the minimum wage increase will be a part of the state budget. Cuomo himself has said it does not have to be included. While Assembly Democrats enthusiastically back the phased-in increase, Senate Republicans did not include the measure in their one house budgets that are being debated this week.

In fact the deputy majority leader, Sen. John DeFrancisco, appeared to take a shot at the governor when he spoke against raising the minimum wage on the Senate floor .

“Just because you say it, and you say it loudly, doesn’t mean it’s true,” DeFrancisco said.

But Cuomo says he hopes a noisy rally right underneath the senators' windows will help change their minds.