New York Daily News: Hochul, be a hero to NY workers

During her frenetic first month in office, Gov. Hochul has acted swiftly to respond to key needs from safe school reopening to the eviction crisis. Now as New York’s workers, especially Black and Brown workers, face urgent needs — from the cut-off of federal unemployment benefits to exploitative working conditions — the governor has the opportunity to deliver the type of bold progressive change working families need.

Across our state, hundreds of thousands of workers’ jobs have disappeared, and they’re struggling without needed supports. Before Labor Day, federal unemployment benefits ended for 1.5 million New Yorkers at a moment when those benefits are needed more than ever. With the delta variant spiking, New York City still faces a 10.2% jobless rate — nearly twice the national average — while the rate for Black New Yorkers is even higher, and New York State’s is 7.6%, one of the highest in the nation. Key New York industries — tourism, hotels, office jobs and the services they support — are only partially reopened, and we cannot leave those industries’ workers behind.


The state can help the long-term unemployed by participating in the 13- or 20-week federal Extended Benefits unemployment insurance (UI) program the way states like New Jersey do. Currently, New York does not participate in this program except during unusual times when the feds agree to cover 100% of the cost. Even with just 50% federal funding (the usual federal contribution), this important program is a bargain for New York and draws down new federal funds.


To defray the cost of the other 50%, which would be covered by New York’s unemployment insurance trust fund, Hochul can demand that corporate gig economy giants like Uber — New York’s largest private-sector employer — start paying into the state UI trust fund. Courts have already ruled that their employees are eligible for state UI benefits. Corporations, not just individual taxpayers, need to pay their fair share for our collective recovery.


For New Yorkers who are working, the minimum wage just isn’t keeping up with rapidly rising costs from food to housing. In New York City the wage has been flat at $15 for a couple of years and isn’t scheduled to increase further. Upstate, it’s just $12.50.

Just this week Hochul used her authority, through the Department of the Labor, to order a 70-cent increase in the upstate minimum wage. She should build on that by supporting new legislation to keep increasing the upstate wage to $15; to adjust the minimum wages in New York City and statewide each year to keep pace with rising living costs and wages; and to empower New York City to raise minimum wages even higher, as cities like Los Angeles and Chicago are able to do.


But raising the overall wage floor still leaves out certain workers. Frontline restaurant employees — mostly women and disproportionately people of color — have been sustaining New Yorkers through the pandemic. But New York’s minimum wage for tipped restaurant servers is just two-thirds of the regular minimum wage. That contributes to high poverty levels and erratic incomes, as servers are forced to rely largely on tips. Restaurant workers’ predicament has become especially dire during the pandemic.


In 2020, New York’s Department of Labor phased out the subminimum wage for other tipped occupations, such as car wash, nail salon and airport workers. Hochul should do the same for restaurant servers to guarantee these vital frontline workers the fair treatment and stable base incomes they deserve.


Finally, Hochul should order the Labor Department to extend basic protections to our state’s farmworkers by lowering their overtime threshold to 40 hours — the same threshold most other New Yorkers have enjoyed since the 1930s. Currently, the overtime threshold for farmworkers in New York is 60 hours. But such brutally long work hours and the fatigue associated with them result in high levels of workplace injuries — and generally cause great hardship for farmworkers, who are increasingly a non-migrant, year-round population of families with children who have lived in New York for years.

The current farmworker overtime threshold is rooted in structural racism, full stop. California and Washington State, two of the top competitors for New York’s large apple industry, recognized this and lowered their overtime threshold for farmworkers. President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have also expressed support for this measure at the federal level. Now is the time for New York to be a leader.


Our new governor has already taken important first steps to protect New York workers, by implementing the NY HERO COVID workplace health and safety law and signing other worker protection bills. As working New Yorkers struggle through the next phase of the pandemic, they need the governor to have their backs by mandating the safeguards they and their families need and deserve.

Dixon is executive director of the National Employment Law Project.

Read the full article at New York Daily News

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About the Author

Rebecca Dixon

Areas of expertise:
  • Occupational Segregation,
  • Program Management,
  • Unemployment Insurance,
  • Workplace Equity

NELP is led by President and Chief Executive Officer Rebecca Dixon. Rebecca is a respected national leader in federal workers’ rights advocacy and is in great demand for her thought leadership on issues of labor and racial, gender, and economic justice.

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