By Jeff Binz
When Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by mid-2021 statewide, many thought of waitresses and retail clerks as the types of workers who would get a raise. But the reality is that many manufacturing workers no longer earn the middle-class incomes that they did a generation ago.
Today, thousands of them earn less than $15, and they’ll get a long overdue raise under the governor’s proposal, helping families and communities across Western and Central New York.
That’s why my union, the United Auto Workers, supports the “Fight for $15” and has joined more than 100 organizations in New York and thousands of New Yorkers in endorsing it.
Billionaire CEOs have kept wages low while pocketing more and more profits for themselves and their shareholders. According to the Economic Policy Institute, inflation-adjusted wages for most workers have stayed essentially flat, increasing only 9.2 percent in the four decades since 1973, while productivity shot up 72.2 percent.
Analysis by the National Employment Law Projects shows that manufacturing workers have fared worse.
Since 2003, the real median wage in the manufacturing sector has declined from $16.38 to $15.66, a drop of 4.4 percent. Real median wages in the motor vehicle and parts manufacturing industries have seen steeper drops of 21.1 percent and 13.73 percent, respectively.
Research by the University of California, Berkeley, shows staggering statistics: Nearly three-quarters of enrollees in the country’s major public benefits programs are members of working families, costing New York taxpayers $3.3 billion a year.
Good wages are better than taxpayer subsidies for low pay and public assistance. It’s time to end poverty and improve the lives of low-wage working people throughout the state – including manufacturing workers across upstate.
According to public opinion polls, 95 percent of New Yorkers believe it’s important to raise the living wage, and nearly six in 10 support raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
Cuomo’s push is a sensible proposal that would increase the state’s wage floor to $15 over a period of five years, giving employers time to adjust.
And more than 3 million workers would benefit, receiving an average annual pay increase of $4,900. Rather than causing unemployment, this measure would result in a net gain in employment of 3,200 by 2021.
If Cuomo is successful, New York would become the first state in the nation to raise the minimum wage to $15 – a distinction that will make history, and one that UAW workers are fighting to help make happen.
Jeff Binz is director of the Community Action Program of the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, Region 9.