A $15 Minimum Wage for City Workers

Local 372 School Crossing Guard Maria DeLaura speaks at a news conference at union headquarters on Jan.6. She is flanked by NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio (left) and DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido (right).

Local 372 School Crossing Guard Maria DeLaura speaks at a news conference at union headquarters on Jan.6. She is flanked by NYC City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Mayor Bill DeBlasio (left) and DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido (right). Photo: Mike Lee

By MIKE LEE

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a $15-an-hour minimum wage for 50,000 low-paid city workers, including 20,000 workers mostly represented by DC 37, before an enthusiastic crowd of members, activists, City Council members and labor leaders at union headquarters on Jan. 6.

“This is a historic day for our union and for working people,” said DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido during the news conference at union headquarters. “We are here to celebrate a moment in history where working people won a major victory in our city.”

The wage increase will go into effect by the end of 2018. The DC 37 titles covered by this plan include School Crossing Guards represented by Local 372, City Seasonal Aides, who are members of Local 983 and several thousand Job Training Participants (JTPs).

School Crossing Guard and Local 372 member Maria DeLaura spoke movingly about how important the wage increase will be for her and her co-workers.

“I have coworkers who are school crossing guards who live in shelters, and some sleep on the subway because they don’t make enough money to get an apartment, or qualify for public assistance,” DeLaura said. She also said that despite their hardships, “They still get up every day, and get to work on time to make sure your children are crossed safely to their schools.”

This latest move by the mayor to increase the pay of thousands of hardworking low-paid public workers in a process that began in March 2015, when the union and the city reached an agreement that increased pay for several job titles in DC 37. Several thousand members saw their pay rise to $11.50.

“This is a fight we should fight in every venue, until working people actually can afford to live the way they should,” de Blasio said.

DC 37 has been on the frontline of the nationwide Fight for 15 movement of fast-food workers, who are demanding a wage hike and union representation.

De Blasio described the minimum wage increase as a major step forward toward achieving a viable living wage for low-wage workers throughout the country. He said New York’s action should be matched by other states and the federal government. Twenty-nine states have adopted minimum wages above the federal government’s minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

The new $15-an-hour wage increase will be implemented by amending the current collective bargaining agreement, ratified in 2014, which expires in 2018. Its $128 million annual cost will have an insignificant impact on the city’s budget, de Blasio said.

Besides DC 37 workers, the $15 an hour raise will also affect 30,000 city contract employees who provide social services.

Responding to a reporter’s question about Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent move to provide a $15 hourly minimum wage for more than 20,000 state employees, including workers at the State University of New York, de Blasio, said, “What we ultimately want, and will fight for, is a federal and state $15 dollar an hour minimum wage. So it is very important for all levels of government to reach their own employees and contracted service workers—we need a $15 dollar minimum wage for all.”

Garrido pointed out that DC 37 represents 10,000 City University of New York workers who aren’t covered by the governor’s action even though their jobs are partially funded with state funds. Currently, the union is involved in tough negotiations to get CUNY workers a new contract.

“While we support the decision for SUNY workers, there are still 10,000 CUNY employees who only make ten bucks an hour and haven’t had a salary raise since 2009,” said Garrido. De Blasio suggested that the $15 wage increase for workers at public colleges and universities should be “across the board.”

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