NEW YORK—With a minimum wage hike on the table at the national and state level, workers rights have become a contentious issue in 2013.
At a City and State panel on Thursday representatives from four labor groups to discuss labor issues facing the current and next administrations.
Workers not a part of a union were, in the past, often left with no way to fight for better wages and conditions.
Without a collective bargaining agreement, like workers with union representation, getting their issue heard is not easy. “Bosses never want to be at the table, even when they are required to be there,” Bhairavi Desai, co-founder of the Taxi Workers Alliance said. “You can imagine, when there is no law that requires that, how much more difficult that is.”
Desai believes getting a collective bargaining agreement is key to making change in the labor force.
“How do you have a real democracy when you don’t have that at the workplace? When you strip workers of their rights to collective bargaining, that is what you are taking away,” Desai said.
Following the Occupy movement in the fall of 2011, contingent labor forces around the country have risen up against low wages and poor working conditions. Groups such as Retail Action Project (RAP) have banded with unions to fight for workers rights.
Minimum Wage Hike
In his State of the State in January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a minimum wage increase to $8.75. President Barack Obama followed on the federal level, suggesting $9. The current minimum wage is $7.25.
The panelists agreed raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do, however with the cost of living so much higher in New York City a living wage was offered as a better solution.
A living wage is generally described as an hourly rate that an individual must earn to support their family.
”As our economy changes there has been a rise in the service sector,” said Lenore Friedlaender, vice president of 32BJ SEIU, a union representing service, factory, and rail workers.
“If there are no organizations that workers belong to and come together and fight to improve the wages, the wages will remain very low unless there is a political solution,” she said.
Even with an increase—minimum or living—maintaining a set number of hours will not be guaranteed by the law.
“For retail workers, what is even more important that the wage they receive, is their schedule. If they don’t get hours to work, it will make very little difference how much more the wage rate goes up,” said Stuart Applebaum, president of Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union.
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