Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo was joined by Vice President Joe Biden to announce a push to raise the minimum wage in New York State to $15 an hour. A rush transcript of the Governor’s remarks at today’s announcement in the Jacob Javits Center in New York City is available below:
Governor Cuomo:Thank you. Thank you.
Is labor in the house today? Are there working men in the house today? Are there working women in the house today? First, to Mary Kay Henry and SEIU, who had the vision – it starts with vision. And they had the vision to organize workers all across this country three years ago to make the simple point that everyone deserves fair pay. We would not be here today without Mary Kay Henry and SEIU and their leadership. Let’s give them a round of applause.
To George Gresham. George Gresham is my political godfather – why you thought godfathers had to be Italian? No, they don’t have to be Italian. 1199 and George got me started when I was running for Attorney General. They’ve been with me ever since. They’re a force for social action in this state, unparalleled. Let’s hear it for George Gresham and 1199.
To Kevin Ryan, who is an extraordinary businessman. He is a great success as a business man, but even better, he’s a great, great corporate citizen to this city and this state and we thank him for his service and his leadership and we wish we had more like him – Kevin Ryan.
To my colleagues in government, to all my colleagues in the New York State Assembly who are here, led by Speaker Carl Heastie who said today that he pledges his support to this initiative, and he’s going to organize all across the State to make this happen statewide. Thank you, Speaker Carl Heastie.
To the New York City Council, to the other union leaders who are here, and to our special guest, because we do have a special guest. And it seems like whenever this special guest comes to New York, there is good news. Doesn’t it seem like that? He is like a New York Santa Claus, that’s what he’s like. Just without the red jacket, and the beard, and the belly and the nose. Otherwise, he’s just like Santa Claus, and whenever he comes, he brings good news. He’s been a great friend to this state. We were pushing to get the La Guardia Airport Project approved federally and he and his team were fantastic getting that approved. Let’s give them a round of applause for that.
He is here today because he is all about this country’s working families. He understands their needs intellectually and he feels their plight emotionally. And he has been their hero and their champion from day one, and he always will be. Give a New York welcome to Vice President Joe Biden.
Today, my friends, is about the hard truth. And the hard truth is that this nation has serious problems that we have to deal with. The truth is that we’ve had a Congress in Washington which has worked overtime to stymie the President and the Vice President in every way that they could. And our nation learned the hard way, that in gridlock, everybody loses. Because when this nation doesn’t move forward, everyone loses and that’s exactly what they did. And this Congress played their politics at the expense of people of this country, and we paid the price.
In New York we chose a different path. We rejected the extremists, we rejected the zealots, we came together to make the progress that we could make. In New York, we believe it’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.
But this nation’s problems haven’t gotten better. In many ways, they’ve gotten worse. My father, late Governor Mario Cuomo, who we lost this year on my Inauguration Day, spoke to these issues at the Democratic Convention in 1984. And this is part of what he said at that convention:
“There’s another part to the shining city. The part where some people can’t pay their mortgages and most young people can’t afford one. Where students can’t afford the education they need and middle class parents watch the dreams they hold for their children evaporate. In this part of the city there are more poor than ever before. Even worse, there are elderly people who tremble in the basements of the houses there. And there are people who sleep in the city streets, in the gutter. Where the glitter doesn’t shine. There are ghettoes where thousands of young people without a job or an education give their lives away to drug dealers every day. There is despair in the faces that too many of us don’t see. In the places that too many of us don’t visit in this shining city.”
My father’s words spoke the truth then and they speak the truth now today.
The truth is, that it’s wrong when society gets so desensitized that people are quicker to bend down to pick up an aluminum soda can in the name of recycling than bending over to help a homeless person in the name of humanity.
The truth is, it’s wrong to send a child to a failing school that you know has been failing for decades when you know that that child is going to be left behind in the first grade and probably never catch up.
The truth is, it’s wrong to have an economy where the rich get richer while the poor get poorer, where the American dream of mobility and opportunity has become more of a cruel myth. An economy than polarizes and isolates, an economy of the lucky and the left out, the haves and the have nots. An economy, where if you’re born poor, you will probably die poor. That is not the American way.
The truth is simple:
A minimum wage of $8.75 is not a minimum wage in the state of New York at all. FDR, listen to this, FDR said, when he started the minimum wage, that that minimum wage is, I quote: “A living wage, I mean more than a fair subsistence; I mean the wages of a decent living." That is the definition of a minimum wage.
And my friends, Kevin Ryan is exactly right, it’s simple math. You can’t support a family on $18,000 a year in New York State not to mention having a decent living.
For a modest means, the typical cost of housing is $11,000. The typical cost of food is $9,000. The typical cost of clothing is $6,000. $18,000 just doesn’t cover it.
A study was released just this week that showed that there is not a single neighborhood in New York City that is affordable to someone earning the minimum wage.
So several months ago, we empaneled a wage board to study the minimum wage of fast food workers. Kevin Ryan, Mike Fishman, Mayor Byron Brown served on that wage board and they recommended a wage of $15 an hour. That recommendation went to New York State Commissioner of Labor Mario Musolino and I am pleased to announce today that the State of New York’s Labor Department has accepted the Wage Board recommendation in full and 150,000 fast food workers will see their wages rise to $15 an hour.
Now, this is a great step forward, Mr. Vice President, but this is New York and New York doesn’t believe in just taking one step forward. In New York we take one step and then we take another step and then we take another step and soon we’re walking and soon we’re running.
And today we’re putting our steps together to form a march towards economic justice. It is a march that says a march that says if you work full time you shouldn’t have to choose between paying the rent and buying food. A march that says, if you work full time you should not live a life in poverty, period.
So Mr. Vice President, today I announce that I will propose to the New York State legislature not just $15 for fast food workers, because a fast food worker deserves $15 an hour, construction workers deserve $15 an hour and home healthcare aides deserve $15 an hour and taxi cab drivers deserve $15 an hour and every working man and woman in the state of New York deserves $15 an hour as a minimum wage and we are not going to stop until we get it done. Si se puede! Si se puede!
We will phase in the wage so businesses can plan accordingly. We have heard and we reject the political argument that raising the minimum wage will cost jobs – we believe the exact opposite. We believe that raising the minimum wage is going to spur the economy, because the families that get that money are going to spend that money.
And we care about growing jobs in the state of New York, because we’re also pleased to announce that today we have more private sector jobs in the state of New York than at any other time in the state of New York.
Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour will bring fairness to 2.2 million working New Yorkers. $15 an hour will be the highest statewide rate in the nation and will herald a new economic contract with America, and it’s about time.
Mr. Vice President, I know that you love all 50 states. We love all 50 states too. But we believe New York is just a little special, and we believe New York is the progressive capital of this nation. We believe that New York is the state of possibility. We say it doesn’t have to be this way – that we can be better. We say the greatest feast has the most people at the table. New York says don’t listen to the small minded, don’t listen to the naysayers, don’t listen to the fear mongers. We can be better.
My Father’s words are not just a dream. We can make those words a reality. We can turn those words into action. We can demonstrate progress. Government can be competent and effective. Government can deliver; we can build housing, we can build airports, we can help the homeless. We can make this place a better place.
We can overcome the skeptics by demonstrating the success of government. Government can be a harbinger of hope not a purveyor of hatred.
My friends let us go from this place energized, united, and committed to bring our crusade for economic justice to every corner of this state and let’s show this nation how high we can reach – and let’s build my Father’s shining city – a city where the bright sunlight of opportunity shines on all those too long left in the shadows for too long. That’s New York at its best, it’s who we are, it’s what we do, let New York once again show this nation the way forward. Thank you and god bless you.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, I want you to join me in a real New York welcome – and you know what I mean by a real New York welcome – to a man who could be a New Yorker. He is that strong. He is that courageous. He is that bold. He is that progressive. He is that much of a leader. He is here with us today. He wants to show the way forward. He is not going back, he’s going forward, and he says we’re going forward together. He represents the working families of this nation. Let’s give a big New York welcome to Vice President Joseph Biden.