Gov. Cuomo pushes for a higher Port Authority minimum wage (photo: Mike Groll/Governor's Office)
Last week, Governor Cuomo publicly called on Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's Board of Commissioners to pass a higher minimum wage for airport workers. While I, other elected officials, and numerous nonprofit advocates were pleased to see this increase approved, Governor Cuomo has still not fulfilled his commitment to another vital workforce in our state, the human services sector.
Hundreds of thousands of human service employees – the vast majority of whom are contracted by the state – remain unbelievably underpaid, making approximately $23,000-$29,600 per year, with no wage increases since 2010. These rates fall well below the $19 hourly wage the governor called for at the Port Authority, and are also below the average income required to meet the basic living needs of a family. The human services sector is a group comprised of approximately 332,000 New Yorkers – 80% of whom are women, and 50% individuals of color – who provide life changing services to New Yorkers from all walks of life, and are essential to our communities.
These are workers who care for our children, assist those with mental health issues, ensure survivors of domestic violence can rebuild their lives, and care for our aging relatives. Yet they are left with a wage that does not provide economic security of their own. For years, the work of employees in the nonprofit sector has been undervalued; the salaries in the sector are lower than comparable positions in other fields, many of the positions require a college degree but do not compensate accordingly, and stagnant wages result in high turnover.
Not only have state contracts failed to fully fund the wages of these employees, but Governor Cuomo refuses to include common-sense cost of living adjustments (COLA) that would allow these employees to earn a livable wage.
We have fought every single year since Governor Cuomo took office in 2011 for a statutory cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) for human services employees. To this end, our chief executive has consistently and uncompromisingly deferred from providing any support in this initiative. This inaction has cost the human services workforce almost $500 million in lost wages. We have seen a largely consistent public commitment from the governor in his support of raising wages across New York. This was demonstrated in his remarks last week, in his championing of the $15 minimum wage, and through his outspoken support of pay equity for women. In light of these strong positions, we expect Governor Cuomo to apply this effort to increase the very limited salaries of human service workers.
When this wage increase for Port Authority workers was enacted, the governor stated that “it is paramount that we have a well-trained, secure, stable workforce…Invest in your most important asset, which is your workforce. Fairness, diligence, good business practices all bring one to the same obvious conclusion. Invest in the workforce, raise the minimum wage to $19 over five years. It is the right thing to do. It is the smart thing to do."
We agree, Governor Cuomo. It is time for our state’s leader to make good on his own words, and fund the human services COLA in the next state budget to ensure living wages for this workforce which we our state depends on so heavily in order to build strong communities.
The governor said it best himself: “It is the right thing to do. It is the smart thing to do.”
Andrew Hevesi is a member of the New York State Assembly, representing parts of Queens in Assembly District 28. On Twitter @AndrewHevesi.