September 25, 2015

How to move toward $15 today
The New York Daily News

By David Nocenti

Now that Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio agree that the minimum wage should be raised to $15 per hour, workers making less know what will happen next.

They will wait.

They will wait for bills to be introduced in Albany, and for the roller coaster ride of raised expectations and dashed hopes.

They will wait until June 2016, when they will hear whether the $15 minimum wage is passed, or whether they will have to survive on their poverty-level wages for another year.

For two groups of low-wage workers, however, this wait should not be necessary, because the governor and the mayor can increase their wages without new legislation.

The first group is obvious: the over 20,000 state and city government employees making less than $15 per hour. The governor and mayor can simply decide to pay their employees more, and the increases can be phased in to match those that fast-food workers are scheduled to receive: culminating in $15 per hour by 2019 in New York City and by 2021 elsewhere in the state.

The second group is less obvious: workers at companies with government contracts.

State and city governments and public authorities enter into construction and service contracts paying private entities billions of dollars each year. There are contracts to build schools and prisons; to pave highways and paint bridges; to repair vehicles and upgrade computer systems.

The government also hires accountants, lawyers, auditors, architects and a myriad of other consultants. And the government contracts with non-profits to provide a wide variety of services, such as operating child care facilities, group homes, senior centers and homeless shelters.

Using this contracting power, Cuomo and de Blasio can simply issue executive orders stating that, in the future, they will contract only with companies that agree to pay a higher minimum wage to the employees working under those contracts. The cost of those contracts will go up because the state and city will have to provide funding for the higher wages, but those costs will be partially offset by higher income tax revenues and lower entitlement expenses.
There is ample precedent for such action. After President Obama proposed a $10.10 per hour federal minimum wage, he followed up his words with action by signing an executive order raising the minimum wage to $10.10 for all workers on federal construction and service contracts.

These actions would not benefit all low-wage workers in New York, because most are not employed by the government or by companies with government contracts.

Employers need to be part of this fight. Union Settlement — the organization I lead here in East Harlem — has multiple government contracts with many employees paid solely with government funds. The workers in our early childhood education program, for example, have not had a raise in almost 10 years, and over 50% of them make less than $15 per hour. A recent citywide survey of early education workers revealed that over 50% were on Medicaid and 17% were receiving food stamps.

But I can’t increase the salaries of my employees unless the government agrees to provide the necessary funding. De Blasio has taken a major first step by establishing an $11.50 wage minimum on social service contracts, but we need to get to $15. Executive orders could make that happen.
Cuomo said “you can’t support a family on $18,000 a year in New York State.” That is true regardless of who signs your paycheck.

By acting now to increase the wages of government employees and private sector employees working under government contracts, the governor and mayor will be helping tens of thousands of struggling families. No waiting required.

Nocenti is executive director of Union Settlement Association, which has provided education, wellness and community-building services in East Harlem since 1895.

Originally published here: