Cuomo touts minimum wage, paid family leave victories at rally

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday held a celebratory rally directly after signing legislation to enact paid family leave and to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The two bills were highlights of the 2016-17 state budget agreement, which was approved by the state Legislature late last week. Cuomo’s rally at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan on Monday featured several high-profile Democratic and labor leaders, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and 1199 SEIU President George Gresham, a major ally in the campaign for a $15 minimum wage.

“We worked together, Democrats and Republicans, Assembly and Senate, labor and management – and we passed a new budget, a new plan for the state of New York that is revolutionary,” Cuomo said at the rally. “We passed a budget with the greatest investment in infrastructure in the history of the state – $50 billion. We’re literally going to build a new future.”

Perhaps the most controversial part of the $147 billion state budget agreement was the proposal to raise the state’s minimum wage. Legislative leaders eventually agreed to a wage hike that will begin Jan. 1, 2017, and reach $15 an hour by the end of 2018 in New York City. Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties will reach $15 on Dec. 31, 2019, and the rest of the state will reach $12.50 on Dec. 31, 2020. At that time, the state Division of the Budget will decide whetherto continue to increase to $15 on an indexed schedule.  

“People are angry because they’re afraid and they feel that the American dream is slipping away. The dream that said your children are going to have a better life than you, that every generation is better,” Cuomo told the crowd. “They’re afraid they’re losing that dream. Why? Because you can’t afford the cost of living increases when you have stagnant wages – and that’s right where we’ve been.”

Despite celebrating state-level victories, much of the focus was on national politics, with was unsurprising given the presence of Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination. Clinton, who took the stage after Cuomo, listed a “living” wage and paid family leave as two of her priorities if elected, and hailed the governor’s success in passing them in New York, a state she once represented as a U.S. senator.

“I know how strongly he felt about this in his heart and I know naming it for his extraordinary father was a signal to everyone about how deeply he felt,” Clinton said, referencing the fact Cuomo named the $15 minimum wage campaign after his father, the late former Gov. Mario Cuomo. “I also really appreciate that what the governor did shows the way to getting an increased minimum wage at the federal level.”

In addition to the congratulations from Clinton, U.S. President Barack Obama also released a statement praising Cuomo.

“I commend Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state of New York for taking the historic step of creating a paid family leave program in the state and raising its minimum wage to support New York’s working families,” Obama said in a statement. “This action means more parents won't have to choose between their job and caring for their new children. It means more workers can earn a higher wage to help make ends meet.”