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Est. April 5, 2002
November 12, 2015 - Issue 629

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A $15 Minimum Wage
In New York?
Big Business
To The Castle Walls!


"This is a story and a fight that is
about as old as the federal minimum
wage law itself, and the narrative never
changes. 'If you raise the minimum
wage, you’ll only be hurting the workers
you want to help,' is the usual pablum
that is served up by these groups."

The headline at the top of the opinion page of the Sunday Gazette this week was ominous: “Heed warnings in new minimum wage report,” in response to the proposal to raise the minimum in New York State to $15 an hour.

Already, the minimum wage for fast food workers in New York City is set to be $15, phased in over several years and now, Governor Andrew Cuomo is pushing for a statewide minimum wage of $15, and the “conservative” groups are coming out of the woodwork, waving their reports that show the devastation that would be visited upon the state if the minimum is raised that much.

Now, it’s one thing for the coalition of corporate groups to oppose an increase in the minimum wage, because a raise cuts into their profits, but a newspaper should be looking on its own to see whether these people are on the level in their claims that businesses and the state’s economy would be in decline.

Those groups include the Empire Center for New York State Policy, the Business Council of New York, New York State Farm Bureau, the National Federation of Independent Business and a laundry list of businesses which want workers willing to work for little, certainly not livable wages. Generally speaking, these groups never met wage slave conditions they didn’t like. After all, it’s their stock in trade. Low wages and little regulation of working conditions are what provide profits and what allow so many of these businesses and corporations to keep their doors open.

So, they hauled out their usual economists who predicted the dire consequences for everyone, business, worker, and consumer, if the minimum wage is increased to $15. They even say that a raise to $12 would not be as bad, but it still would be bad, very bad.

This is a story and a fight that is about as old as the federal minimum wage law itself, and the narrative never changes. “If you raise the minimum wage, you’ll only be hurting the workers you want to help,” is the usual pablum that is served up by these groups. And it wasn’t just the federal minimum wage back in the 1930s, it was the labor law, itself, as well as all of the other benefits of a civil society that provided for the workers, the poor, the elderly, the disabled, and the children, not necessarily in order of importance.

We should not be concerned about the attempts of Corporate America to keep workers and farmers down, because it’s what they do, as we know why there is a disparity in both wealth and income in the country. What is always disturbing is that the great “free press” in the U.S., under the Bill of Rights, routinely fails to present any objective truth. In this case, they simply took the words of the 1 percent as gospel and ran with it. They know on which side their bread is buttered. These are the people who buy advertising space, and they must not be alienated.

The Gazette is in Schenectady, to which city Thomas Edison fled from New Jersey, when the unions started organizing his business in the Garden State. The “works,” as General Electric was known once employed some 40,000 workers, line, professional, and clerical, and Edison and his successors found ways to live with the unions that followed the work. Schenectady thrived and was a bustling industrial city, with nobody complaining that the workers earned four or five times as much as the federal minimum wage at that time. What made the city prosperous was that the workers spent their money in the local economy, including Schenectady. Then, GE like other industrial corporations, started “off shoring” the jobs. Renewing prosperity has been one of the primary goals of the city, along with all of the cities and counties in the nation’s Rust Belt.

Over the past 30 years or more, there have been numerous studies by economists and economic researchers and their reports have shown that all of the predictions of job loss, cutbacks, and failures from an increase in the minimum were just that…predictions. They have not come to pass. Generally, the finding has been that local economies improve where the workers are paid a livable wage. That’s because the workers spend the money where they live and they spend it right away, thus improving the bottom line for businesses, big and small.

Although the editorial pays slight attention to this aspect of the benefits of rising wages, it spent the bulk of the editorial quoting from the naysayers’ report, not mentioning any specific report that disproved the corporations’ position.

Holly Sklar, head of, cited a series of studies by the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California, Berkley. The studies, she said, “significantly advanced the research on minimum wage employment effects. Minimum Wage Effects Across State Borders compared all neighboring counties in the U.S. located on different sides of a state border with different minimum wage levels between 1990 and 2006 and found no adverse employment effects from higher minimum wages.” There are many other studies that have reached the same conclusions.

As she pointed out, the buying power of the minimum wage peaked in 1968, at $10.97, adjusted for inflation in 2015 dollars. She pointed out that the unemployment rate nationally went from 3.8 percent in 1967, to 3.6 percent in 1968, to 3.5 percent in 1969, and the next time the unemployment rate approached that level was after the minimum was raised in 1996 and 1997. Sklar quoted Business Week, from 2001: “Many economists have backed away from the argument that minimum wage (laws) lead to fewer jobs.”

In 2013, a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research showed that, if the minimum wage had kept up with increases in worker productivity, it would have been set at $21.72 in 2012, three years ago. As we know, that did not happen and some research shows that the minimum wage, if it grew with productivity and inflation, it would be in the area of $25 an hour. Considering that, a $15-an-hour wage doesn’t seem so high.

Many states are considering a substantial raise in the minimum wage, while a number of them already have, but they are usually phased in over three or four years, so when the target minimum is reached, it may be 2020 or even later. Although many low-wage workers can’t wait that long for their full time job to allow them to pay their bills, there has been some progress made. The question is what do they do in the meantime, as the rate of homelessness in most or all states is rising steadily?

Corporations, which to a great extent control our economy and politics, are unambiguous about keeping all of the money they can. If they, collectively, can keep just $5 of every worker’s wages, every day, imagine the excess they can accrue from that number, whether they are low-wage or high income. Back in 2010, the U.S. Department of Labor estimated that there were about 138,641,000 workers, and nearly 93 percent were wage and salary workers. That would be a tidy sum, every day, wouldn’t it?

Most of today’s opponents of a minimum wage, state by state, or nationally, seem to be Republicans (although there have been some Democrats who are anti-worker) and President Harry Truman had this to say about the GOP and the minimum wage back in the middle of the last century: “They favor minimum wage—the smaller the minimum wage the better.” Not much has changed on that score in the past 65 years.

The most vociferous opponents of a raise fatten on their million-dollar pay and multi-million-dollar “compensation packages,” they solemnly announce, “$15 an hour will hurt those workers.” It’s news to low-wage workers that a raise in pay is going to hurt them. They are beginning to fight for an increase and politicians are listening, because the state of the U.S. economy is beginning to trouble even the more conservative economists.

Unfortunately, the average citizen-worker cannot rely on the “free press” to inform them of the condition of the country and the condition of their lives, because most of the small papers (those that are left standing) and the local television stations are largely held hostage to their advertisers’ dollars, to keep the presses running or the doors open. Papers like the Gazette are no longer providing any realistic guide for the working class and the middle class, let alone providing any solid, accurate information. They have the same access to research that comes from other than the Chamber of Commerce, but they are falling down on the job, instead often acting as agents for those who run things. Columnist, John Funiciello, is a long-time former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Contact Mr. Funiciello and BC.

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