Why people of faith support the Fight for $15

2015-06-11 11.08.47On November 29, 2012, the Fight for 15 began in New York City when fast food workers walked off the job calling for a $15 wage and a union. Since then, the Fight for 15 movement has grown exponentially and has changed the public consciousness and political climate regarding the minimum wage and the treatment of low-wage workers in our economy.

Here in New York State, the momentum for $15 has never been greater. Workers are now organizing in Rochester, Buffalo and Albany, in addition to New York City. Just a few weeks after the last day of strikes in April, Gov. Cuomo announced that he would convene a Wage Board to consider raising the wage for fast food workers.  After four groundbreaking public hearings, at which workers shared over 20 hours or testimony, the Wage Board decided to gradually raise wages to $15 in New York. Then in September, Governor Cuomo announced a push for $15 for all workers.

Many clergy and people of faith are part of the growing movement to make sure the dream of living wages for all becomes a reality. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • Millions of New York workers currently don’t make enough to support themselves. About 3 million New Yorkers make less than $15/hour. But according to the Department of Labor, the cost of living in New York State requires a single adult working full-time to make at least 15.91/hour. These workers are going without necessities, relying on public assistance or family and friends, and/or going into debt.
  • Low wages keep families in poverty. More than 3 million New Yorkers are poor, and 8 million are low-income (under 250% of the federal poverty level).
  • No matter what kind of work you do, a job should provide the means to a decent life. As people of faith, we believe all people have inherent dignity and the right to a decent life. No job should keep people in poverty or struggling to make ends meet.
  • Low wages hurt our communities. Many of our communities have very few jobs left that pay a living wage. We see the impacts all around us: less money for people to spend in our community, more people under financial and emotional stress, higher demand for food pantries and other social services. A $15 minimum wage would make a significant impact not only on individual families but on whole communities.
  • Our faith traditions teach us to listen to the cries of the poor and the oppressed. For three years, low-wage workers have been risking their jobs and livelihoods to speak the truth about the injustice of low wages and abuse on the job. As people of faith, we have listened to their stories and are called to support them in winning better lives for themselves and their families.
  • Opponents of a minimum wage increase have not offered a viable alternative to address the moral crisis in our state. The Wage Board hearings documented that, as a result of low wages, workers face hardships including “overcrowded living space, inadequate and unhealthy food, homelessness, lack of health insurance, heavy debt, inability to cover bills for necessities like medication, heat and lights, lack of sleep, physical and emotional exhaustion, inability to afford clothing for their children and themselves, dependence on public assistance, lack of reliable transportation, inability to afford college, having to drop out of high school, and living in crime-ridden neighborhoods.” Opponents of raising wages for low-wage workers have failed to offer an alternative way to address this crisis.