The Remarks Of Speaker Sheldon Silver

Press Conference: Announcing Assembly Will Take Up Legislation To Raise The Minimum Wage

Capitol, Speaker's Conference Room
Tuesday, May 15, 2012

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Speaker Sheldon Silver (at podium) and members of the Assembly Majority discussed their legislation to increase the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour at a Capitol news conference today shortly before the bill's passage. Silver and his colleagues were joined by minimum wage advocates and labor organizations, including Rockland County Girl Scout Hannah Buckler (Silver's right) who circulated a petition in her community to increase the minimum wage.

(From left, first row) Assembly Labor Committee Chair Keith Wright and Assembly member Grace Meng; (second row) minimum wage proponents Myran Capaldi, Ulster County Head Start and Melanie Beam, director of Sales and Business Development at Web Service Group.

On January 4th of this year, I announced that the Assembly Majority would make increasing the minimum wage a major priority for this legislative session.

Since then, we have done an extensive and thorough analysis. We have introduced a bill (Assembly 9148) to raise New York State's minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50 per hour, and to index it to the rate of inflation.

The Chairman of our Committee on Labor, Assemblyman Keith Wright, has conducted a series of public hearings around the state and received testimony on this issue.

Today, I am pleased to report that we will take up our minimum wage legislation on the floor of the House and that we intend to pass this vitally important bill this afternoon.

Joining me once again to discuss our legislation is one of the leading voices on this issue, our Labor Chair, Keith Wright.

Here to show their strong support are many of the bill's sponsors as well as some very special guests.

First, I am delighted to say that we are joined by 12-year-old Hannah Buckler, a Girl Scout who is in the 7th grade at Felix Festa Middle School in West Nyack, New York. Hannah is also a volunteer with "Soup Angels," a local soup kitchen in Nyack. She is here with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Iran and Yurry Buckler.

In addition to her studies, Hannah is working on her Girl Scout Silver Award Project, the theme of which, is the relationship between hunger in New York and our low minimum wage. In fact, she has started a petition seeking support for raising the minimum wage.

Last month, Hannah sent me a letter asking for my assistance. We have spoken on the telephone. I have assured her that we will do everything we can to guide our minimum wage legislation to enactment.

Also here and speaking on our legislation will be:

The Assembly Majority has been making the case for increasing the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation for more than five months now. The issue has received significant coverage and has been debated in media outlets across the state. What we have found, not surprisingly, is overwhelming public support.

In fact, the recent Siena College poll found that at least 78-percent of voters support increasing the minimum wage.

New Yorkers feel - as we do - that $15,080 for a full-time, year-round worker is appalling. It is particularly so, given that 18 states and the District of Columbia have higher minimum wage rates, and given that our rate would be roughly $10.80 per hour today had our minimum wage kept pace with inflation over the last 40 years.

It is this failure to keep the minimum wage up to par with the cost of living that explains why our income gap is the widest in the country.

This is a matter of human dignity. It's about the value of work. It's about a fair day's pay for a fair day's labor. No one who works a full 35-hour week should be poor; should have to choose between paying the rent, putting food on the table, or purchasing school supplies for their children, but that is the case in New York right now.

It's unacceptable and this diminished standard of living should be unacceptable to every leader in the Capitol.

Opponents of our legislation say that raising the minimum wage will slow New York's recovery or send employers out of state.

The most rigorous economic research disproves this claim.

Beyond this, the Economic Policy Institute estimates that the very small increases in the minimum wage that took effect in eight states on January 1st of this year, combined with their indexing laws, will generate an additional $366 million in gross domestic product and create the equivalent of more than 3000 full-time jobs.

It's common sense. Higher wages mean higher incomes. Higher incomes mean greater spending, which provides a boost to local economies and encourages more hiring.

Think about it. One of America's greatest industrialists, Henry Ford, paid his workers a decent wage because he wanted them to be able to purchase Ford products. The same principle applies today.

As for the impact of raising the minimum wage on small, local businesses, let me point out that the majority of low-wage workers are employed by the large chains, not by mom-and-pop shops.

In fact, the Fiscal Policy Institute reports that retail chains are actually paying workers 23-percent less than smaller retailers.

I'll say it again, raising the minimum wage, indexing it to inflation, is a matter of human dignity. Our legislation will make life better for more than a million workers, the vast majority of whom, are adults.

I urge our colleagues in the Senate to listen to the people. The Siena College poll found that 58-percent of Republican voters and 64-percent of politically identified conservative voters support the increase.

It is time to raise the minimum wage. It will be good for our workers. It will be good for our economy. It will be good for the State of New York.