Albany citizens rally for raise in minimum wage
By Connor Murphy
April 21, 2015
On Tax Day, April 15, more than 100 low-wage workers rallied as part of a statewide movement to increase the minimum wage, which was organized by Citizen Action of New York. They made their message clear with chants such as, “Hey hey! Ho ho! Minimum wage is far too low!”
Demonstrators representing fast food and retail chains, home and child care professionals, adjunct college instructors, and concerned members of the community all participated in the rallies, which took place throughout the day. They began in the morning at a Holland Avenue McDonald’s, shifted over to Empire State Concourse at noon, and ended at 5 p.m. at the Dunkin Donut’s across from the University at Albany.
“Citizen Action of New York is a statewide organization fighting for progressive issues, like making sure that workers can have a wage that allows them to get by,” said Roberto LoBianco, the group’s communications manager.
Citizen Action’s events on Tax Day, which coincided with some 60,000 workers taking to streets across more than 200 cities nationwide as organized mostly by Service Employees International Union (SEIU), came nearly three years after 200 workers from New York City-based fast food chains walked out in one of the first strikes of its kind.
According to federal records, SEIU has spent tens of millions on the #FightFor15 campaign since those initial strikes in 2012, all without having a single member from the fast food industry in the union.
The Statewide Political Picture
Citizen Action is demanding New York State lawmakers to nearly double the minimum wage, from the current $8.25 an hour to $15. In passing the budget on April 2, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s initial proposal for an $11.50 minimum wage for the City and $10.50 for the rest of the state was left out of the bill due to opposition from Senate Republicans.
This, as well as the #FightFor15 rallies that happened statewide, didn’t go unnoticed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who endorsed the minimum wage increase in an op-ed in New York Daily News.
The highest-ranking law official in the state even suggested Cuomo’s office take matters into their own hands: “While the statewide minimum wage is set by the Legislature and the governor, state law endows the state’s commissioner of labor with the authority to investigate and increase the minimum wage for any occupation if the commissioner determines that a substantial number of employees ‘are receiving wages insufficient to provide adequate maintenance and to protect their health.’”
Schneiderman continued, “Low-wage workers have power themselves to get the ball rolling…a petition by 50 employees in any occupation forces the commissioner of labor to conduct an investigation into the adequacy of their wages. The investigative process itself could shine a massive spotlight on the struggles of low-wage workers. And any fair examination of their conditions would almost certainly demand relief.”
A Day Dedicated to Strike
During the rally inside Empire State Concourse, some of the protesters not only held signs that read, “We all do better when we all do better,” in both English and Spanish, but also played tambourines, horns, and other instruments as they temporarily blocked the entrance to the underground McDonald’s.
“We need to change these jobs from ones that drag our economy down into ones that lift up workers,” said Stacey Ellis, a 42 year-old McDonald’s worker in Albany. “Minimum wage is not helping us. We need $15 an hour.”
Eventually State Troopers advised protesters to unblock the fast food entrance, so the rally moved a few hundred feet before more people came forward to speak.
“My co-workers and I work at Dunkin Donut’s and we make $9 an hour,” one woman said on the megaphone. “I have a three-year-old son in daycare for $250 a week. My paycheck only goes to about $260 a week and that’s 28 hours work.”
“We have to do this for ourselves,” Vincent Commisso said, an adjunct lecturer at UAlbany. He described his constituency, one the ASP has previously reported on as roughly making $2,800 per course, as fighters in the same match to raise wages.
Once the event concluded, some people from Citizen Action hopped on a purple bus called “The Giddy Up,” with words on the side that claimed “a journey as fun as the destination,” to ride over for the 5 p.m. event at Dunkin Donut’s. Roughly 30 people gathered there with a noticeable UAlbany student presence.
One of these students, freshman Ashley Whiteside, grabbed the megaphone at points to lead the rallying cries. Some of these included, “We can’t stay alive—on 8.75” and “Dunkin Donut’s you’re no good—treat your workers like you should.”
The event across from Collins Circle lasted an hour. Cars occasionally honked their support as they passed the crowd on the curb. When the crowd went silent, social activist Sean Collins turned on the megaphone’s cop siren. Though murmurs of walking through the Dunkin Donut’s were heard, Roberto LoBianco quelled those by mentioning the problem they’d encountered with blocking the concourse McDonald’s earlier in the day.
At the end of the day’s events, many heartfelt thanks between the rally-goers were made and chants of “We’ll be back,” led by Mark Emanatian, the Capital Region organizer for Citizen Action.
“I believe that Dr. King was right in 1968 when he was working for a poor peoples’ movement for human rights,” Emanatian said. “I think this is sort of the beginning of the continuation of that vision.”