ITHACA, N.Y.—Local electeds and labor leaders have gotten behind a statewide push to change the way Albany sets New York’s minimum wage.

On Thursday, officials and organizers appeared with the Tompkins County Workers’ Center, and the statewide advocacy coalition Raise Up NY, voicing their support for legislation that would make New York state’s minimum wage automatically rise from year to year with the cost of living, and productivity in the workforce. 

New York state’s minimum wage will reach $14.20 across the state at the end of 2022, bringing upstate New York up from $13.20. It is scheduled to increase each year until it reached $15 per hour. The stepped minimum wage increase to reach this point began in 2017, but without another law to continue raising the wage, Raise Up NY contends that the current way the minimum wage increases leaves the financial well-being of workers “at the mercy of political winds and legislative fights every few years.”

A bill that would have made these changes stalled during New York State’s 2022 legislative session, but its sponsors in the state legislature, including Senator Jessica Ramos (D-13), have pledged to reintroduce it in January 2023. When that time comes, it seems the law will find plenty of support in liberal Tompkins County. 

County Legislator Anne Koreman and City of Ithaca Alderperson Jorge DeFendini appeared alongside Stephanie Heslop, representing local Starbucks Workers United, as well as other workers in the community.

Yolanda Joseph, a local teacher’s aide, said that with the rising cost of commodities, “$15 An hour is not acceptable. It’s not even a livable wage.” 

“When wages don’t rise but costs do, everyday people suffer,” said DeFendini. 

One potential pitfall acknowledged by State Assemblymember Dr. Anna Kelles on Thursday is the benefit cliff that some workers may face if their wages increase too much. A benefit cliff is when a small increase in income for an individual or family pushes them out of the qualifying bracket for certain public benefits, like Medicaid or food stamps.

Kelles spoke to the need she felt for the federal government to focus on creating a “step down” system to public benefits, or a gradual decrease in the benefits offered. However, the decision that needs to be made at the state level is how much the minimum wage should be to mitigate the effects of a benefit cliff, says Kelles. 

“[We’re] having a conversation about how much money people would actually really need to compensate for the fact that we would be pushing them over the benefits cliff, because we have a horrible system,” said Kelles. 

New York State Senate Candidate Lea Webb spoke at the event. She said, “What I often am struck by is that there’s always push back to say, well, it’s going to cost too much. And I often say back, what’s the cost of continuing to do business as usual? We can’t talk about having an economy that works for all of us without addressing the gross wage inequalities that exist in our state, and in our country.”

Jimmy Jordan

Jimmy Jordan is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact him at Connect with him on Twitter @jmmy_jrdn