Testimony of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.
on Increasing New York State's Minimum Wage
Delivered before the New York State Assembly Labor Committee—April 23, 2012
I am testifying today in support of Assembly bill A.9148, which would increase New York State’s minimum wage. This bill is long overdue, and represents the very least we can do for individuals and families, in the Bronx and elsewhere, that are struggling to make ends meet.
As you are aware, in New York City I have been a leader in the fight to bring a “living wage” to the five boroughs—to change the way we do business in our City. When developers take heavy taxpayer subsidies, they must do better by their employees.
But that is not to say that the issue of economic justice and wage fairness stops when a taxpayer subsidy is not involved. These are trying economic times, and each of us can point to someone—a family member, a co-worker, a loved one—whose life has been adversely effected by our economic downturn.
For too long—since 2009—the minimum wage in our state has remained stagnant at just $7.25 an hour. If you are a low-wage worker employed full-time for 35 hours a week, this adds up to a weekly salary of roughly $250, and just over $13,000 per year. Under any measure, this is a meager sum, and by no means enough to support an individual, let alone a family, at any worthwhile quality of life.
Assembly bill A.9148, and its Senate counterpart S.6413—which is principally sponsored by my Bronx colleague and friend State Senator Jeff Klein—will change that. Yes, an $8.50 an hour salary is still not ideal, and would still make it difficult for individuals and families to support themselves. However, this bill would also peg future increases to our state’s minimum wage to inflation, thus insuring that when the cost of living rose in New York City, so too would the salaries of the hard-working men and women of this state.
Critics of this legislation, much like the critics of our “living wage” legislation, claim that an increase in the minimum wage will hurt our economy, cost our state jobs and drive businesses to other states. Those critics, much like they were in their critiques of the “Fair Wages for New Yorkers” Act, are wrong.
In fact, several states surrounding New York, including Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont, already have a higher minimum wage than the federal level, and a higher minimum wage than our state. Yet we have seen no great influx of businesses from those states fleeing to our borders. There is no reason to think that the same would be true for New York.
We can no longer wait for our federal government to act for the entire nation and pass sweeping minimum wage legislation for every state. New York has long been at the forefront of progressive policy initiatives, and we should be prepared to lead the way for the entire nation on the issue of a fair wage.
As Mayor Bloomberg and Assembly Speaker Silver have stated, the minimum wage is a vital part of the social safety net, and must be raised in New York. I could not agree more. It is time to raise our state’s minimum wage, as a matter of economic fairness for the people of New York State.