Friday, February 12, 2016

Workers mull raising the minimum wage

By Adam Wisnieski
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
Romaine Gray, 28, pictured above on Feb. 15, earns minimum wage at Lot Less Closeouts in Kingsbridge.

Last year, co-Majority Leader Jeff Klein pushed Speaker Sheldon Silver’s bill to raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50 per hour. In early January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo one-upped the legislature, proposing $8.75. Then, in his State of the Union address last week, President Barack Obama raised the stakes again, calling on Congress to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 per hour.

That was music to the ears of low-wage earners in the Riverdale/Kingsbridge area.

“I’m excited. I can’t wait. It would help a lot,” said Romaine Gray, 28, as he placed dolls on the shelves at Lot Less Closeouts on Broadway in Kingsbridge. “Right now, you work just to pay bills, it’s hard to put food on your table.”

Though not many had heard about the state’s push to raise the minimum wage, word on Mr. Obama’s $9 per “My friend called to tell me,” said Brenda Kwarteng, 23, a cashier at Rite Aid in Marble Hill.

Everyone interviewed said any increase would help pay bills and buy essentials like food, though a few said a bump in their take home pay would mean money to spend on other things.

Ms. Kwarteng said she’d like to help pay for her brother to go to college. Mr. Gray said that his hours had been reduced from 40 to 34 per week, and that it’s forced him to think about applying for food stamps. He said he might be able to do without them if he got a bump in his take-home pay.

“I’d be able to save a little bit,” said Roque Ortiz, 40, a Kingsbridge resident who makes $8 an hour stocking shelves at C-Town on Broadway.

Just because Mr. Obama called on congress to raise the federal minimum wage does not mean New York is giving up. After Mr. Obama’s announcement, Mr. Silver amended his legislation to reflect the president’s figure of $9 per hour. It is unclear if Mr. Klein will still support $9, but after Mr. Obama’s speech he released a statement saying the state should still act to raise the minimum wage since Congress is unlikely to pass a wage-increase bill.

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