January 22, 2015– In Tuesday Night’s State of the Union address, President Obama made increasing the Federal Minimum Wage a central theme of his economic platform. While this proposal is not new to the President’s agenda, he used a recovering economy and the signs of an increasing Presidential public approval rating to bolster his opportunity to be more vocal on the issue.
While individual states always have the ability to deviate more favorably to employees from the Federal government’s wage standard, the President highlighted the moral responsibility of the Federal Government in setting a heightened National baseline on wages. He was unequivocal in the expression of his belief that wage increases are essential to improving the fabric of the American workplace and the life of the American worker.
To a Republican controlled Congress, the President challenged “To everyone in this Congress who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this: If you truly believe you could work full time and support a family on less that $15,000 a year, go try it. If not, vote to give millions of the hardest working people in America a raise.” While this dramatic challenge may have resonated with the American people, it may be more rhetoric than policy as the, now Republican majority in the Congress, has vehemently refused to take up any measure increasing the Minimum Wage above the 2009 rate of $7.25 per hour.
The President also focused on other workplace related issues, which he was looking for Congress to take a leadership role in establishing national policy on, including paid sick leave, paternity leave, and universal day care. Once again, under the current make-up of Congress, passage of such legislation is also unlikely.
Meanwhile, in New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a significant increase in the state’s current $8.75 per hour minimum wage to $10.50 per hour by 2016, outside of NYC. In a surprising change of position from his stance of late last year, the Governor also proposed a NYC differential of $1.00 per hour in NYC’s minimum wage, or $11.50 per hour by 2016. These increases would make NYC and NYS among the highest minimum wage jurisdictions in the country. Earlier this month, 21 other states implemented minimum wages hikes.
In making his proposal the Governor focused less on the obligation of NYS citizens to support each other, or on the moral obligations of the NYS legislature, but more on New York keeping pace with the healthier state of the economy, “The world has changed. The market is strong and I believe the market, this market, at this rate of strength, can deal with this.” While the proposed wage promulgated by the Governor is far below his original proposal of $13 per hour, it is also unlikely to see clear passage with a New York State Senate in equal opposition as the US. Congress to such a measure.
While a substantial increases in the Federal and New York State minimum wage seem unlikely under the current political climate, the issue is of significant and consequential concern to a financially devastated American workforce. What it will take to transform this powerful political rhetoric into actual implemented legislation is unclear; however, it seems unlikely that these Executive standard bearers are, summarily, willing to concede the issue to their Republican opposition.