Reform Jewish Voice of New York State

September 19, 2014 · 24 Elul


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Minimum Wage

Celebrate Advocacy Month!

Spend the month of Cheshvan (Oct. 17-Nov. 14) engaging in advocacy work to raise the state minimum wage. From adult education, to student programming and Jewish text sources, be sure to use our Advocacy Month Resource Guide for all of your congregations' needs.

 

I. Background

II. Reform Jewish Postition

III. Legislative Update

IV. Related Links

V. Further Reading

VI. Talking Points

 

I. Background

New York State's current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour translates into 82% of the 3 person federal poverty level. The last increase was 10 cents in July 2009, bringing New York's minimum wage up to the federal $7.25 per hour. An increase in the state minimum wage to $8.50 an hour would put the wages of a full-time minimum wage worker at 95% of the 3-person federal poverty line.

While critics argue that an increase in the minimum wage would reduce employment of low-wage workers, FPI (Fiscal Policy Institute), using Bureau of Labor statistics, shows the opposite. From the end of the first half of 2004, before New York State increased the minimum wage, to the end of the first half of 2005, after the increase, employment grew 1.8% in the retail trade and 2.7% in food service. In addition, some recent studies indicate that minimum wage increases have no impact on the number of jobs held or hours worked.

In an innovative approach, legislative leaders from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are pushing a unified approach to promote higher minimum wages. New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and his counterparts, Speaker Sheila Oliver in New Jersey and Chris Donovan in Connecticut want to defuse the argument by critics and some business groups that a state puts itself at a disadvantage if it increases the minimum wage when neighboring states do not.

These legislators want to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.50 in New York and New Jersey and to $9.75 over two years in Connecticut where it's already $8.25. Bills have been introduced in each of the state's legislatures but haven't been passed yet.

II. Reform Jewish Position

If there is a single common theme running throughout our Jewish tradition, it is that of social justice. Our scriptures teach us to support the widow, to extend our hands to the downtrodden. Our tradition demands that we "speak up, judge righteously, champion the poor and the needy (Proverbs 31:9)." As Jews, we have an obligation not only to feed the hungry but also to help those in need become self-sufficient (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah).

The Torah also emphasizes the importance of a worker's wages. "You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer...but you must pay him his wages on the same day, for he is needy and urgently depends on it (Deuteronomy 24:14-15)." A similar statement appears in Leviticus, "You shall not defraud your neighbor, nor rob him; the wages of he who is hired shall not remain with you all night until the morning (Leviticus19:13)." The Torah further expresses a commitment to economic justice in the remark, "If one hires a worker to work with straw and stubble and the worker says to him, "Give me my wages," if the employer says, "take the results of your labor as payment," we do not listen to him (Mishnah Bava Metziah 10:5).

The Reform Jewish Movement has long been a voice for social and economic justice. As early as 1965, the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ) passed a resolution entitled "The Eradication and Amelioration of Poverty" which urged the federal government to adopt measures "which would assure every man willing and able to work at a wage which makes possible a decent standard of living."

In 1999 both the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) and the Union of Reform Judaism passed resolutions supporting living wage campaigns, including supporting living wage ordinances and bills to bring wages to at least the poverty line, and encouraging rabbis and members of their congregations to be involved in living wage campaigns.


URJ Resolution, The Eradication and Amelioration of Poverty (1965)
URJ Resolution, Living Wage Campaigns (1999)
CCAR Resolution, Living Wage Campaign (1999)

Since our founding in 2002, Reform Jewish Voice of New York State (RJV) has supported an increase in the minimum wage. In 2004, there was a real opportunity to see our advocacy come to fruition when both the Assembly and Senate voted to increase the minimum wage however, Governor Pataki vetoed the measure.

RJV continued to speak with legislators requesting them to vote to override the veto. We were successful and the first phase of an increase went into effect on January 1, 2005 with additional increases up to $7.25 by mid 2009. RJV is again advocating for an increase in the minimum wage and while we believe that a $10 per hour minimum wage is our preferred choice to bring minimum wage workers above the poverty level, we would support the proposed increase to $8.50 per hour effective January 1, 2013 with annual adjustments beginning in January 2014, as a good first step.

III. Legislative Update

The last increase was 10 cents in July 2009, bringing New York’s minimum wage up to the federal $7.25 per hour.  Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver proposed increasing the NYS minimum wage to $8.50 per hour on January 1, 2013 and to annually adjust the minimum for changes in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) beginning January 2014. An increase in the state minimum wage to $8.50 an hour would put the wages of a full-time minimum wage worker at 95% of the 3-person federal poverty line.

Legislation to implement this proposal has been introduced (A9148/S6413) but no action has been taken. Speaker Silver held hearings this session but Senate Majority Leader Skelos opposes increasing the minimum wage and does not want the Senate to act on it. 

At the federal level, New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand are co-sponsors of the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2012, legislation introduced by Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, which seeks to raise the federal minimum wage, and thereby the threshold that states are required to meet, from $7.25 to $9.80 an hour by 2014.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have minimum wage levels above $7.25.  RJV is again advocating for an increase in the New York State minimum wage to $8.50 per hour effective January 1, 2013 with annual adjustments beginning in January 2014, as a good first step towards bringing minimum wage workers above the poverty line.


IV. Related Links
Fiscal Policy Institute
Hunger Action Network of New York State
Interfaith Impact of New York State
New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness
NYS AFL-CIO

V. Further Reading

Speak Up New York (RACblog)

New York Leaders Speak Out for Fair Minimum Wage (RACblog)

NY Legislative Session Close to the End (RACblog)

New York Teeters on Minimum Wage (RACblog)

 

VI. Talking Points

  • New York State has not increased its minimum wage in 5 years.
  • 18 states and the District of Columbia have minimum wage levels about New York's $7.25
  • Neighboring states New Jersey and Connecticut are also proposing to increase their minimum wages.
  • $7.25 translates to $290 a week and $15,080 a year.
  • An increase in our state's minimum wage would benefit about 1 million people.
  • The 2005 increase in the minimum wage did not diminish employment and some recent studies indicate that minimum wage increases have no impact on the number of jobs held or hours worked.
  • An increase in the minimum wage puts money into the pockets of low-wage workers and increases demand for the goods and services they and their families purchase.