Brian Pugh: Honoring MLK

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To the Editor,

As we remember Dr. Martin Luther King this holiday weekend, we should remember him not just for his stirring rhetoric, but the substantive changes for which he fought. Among the changes championed by King was a fair minimum wage.

“We know of no more crucial civil rights issue…today than the need to increase the..minimum wage and extend its coverage,” said Dr. King in 1966.

Sadly, over the decades, the buying power of the minimum wage has been allowed to erode. The federal minimum wage (currently $7.25/hour) peaked in 1970–when, adjusted for inflation, it was over $12/hour in today’s dollars.

To correct this, New York State is having the state minimum wage for workers in Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester Counties increase to $10/hour at the start of 2017, then an additional $1/hour each year after, reaching $15/hour on 12/31/2021.

Citing an exemption in the state minimum wage law, the current Village administration has declined to follow suit. Nonetheless, New York State, New York City, Buffalo and Rochester have all voluntarily pledged to pay their public sector workers at least the state minimum.

At a time when other employers are raising starting wages, the Village should follow suit to remain competitive and attract and retain qualified people. Offering a starting wage of around $8/hour when most all other employers must offer at least $10/hour is not tenable.

Beyond the practical argument, there is a moral one. Do we value the work performed by seasonal laborers, camp counselors or lifeguards less than we value the jobs done by other workers such as those in the fast food industry?

Paying Village workers, mostly seasonal temporary workers such as camp counselors, the state minimum wage would have a minimal impact on our Village’s $18M budget.

When this issue was last discussed in August, the Mayor and his Deputy Mayor insisted that the cost of raising starting pay to $9/hr for Village workers (then the NYS minimum wage), for a total cost of some $1,025, would overburden on the Village treasury. Yet, in 2016, the Croton United Party majority found $5,000 in taxpayer dollars to pay their largest campaign donor as “reparations” for a claim that was denied by the Village’s insurance plan.

It’s true that we live in austere times. But we need not and should not balance the Village’s budget on the backs of its lowest paid workers.

Sincerely,

Brian Pugh

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