Workers Hope to Get $15 Hourly Wage

Mariano Díaz works doing deliveries. (Photo by Gerardo Romo via El Diario)

Mariano Díaz works doing deliveries. (Photo by Gerardo Romo via El Diario)

[Editor’s note: On July 22, the New York State Wage Board agreed to recommend to Gov. Andrew Cuomo an increase in the wage for fast food workers to $15.]

Tomorrow could be a great day for Mariano Díaz. Even though he does not work at a fast food restaurant, he believes what is about to happen is a victory for everyone and a sign of better news to come. On Wednesday, the Fast Food Wage Board will meet to analyze the wages received by workers in this sector and could recommend a raise to the coveted $15 per hour.

“Here I do deliveries, but they pay me $370 per week while I’m still working 60 hours. I get some tips that help me get to $400 or so, but living conditions remain uncertain for me,” said Díaz, who was born in the Dominican Republic, where he still has a wife and children. “I send them $250, and pay $110 per week of rent where I live. Every week I end up with nothing from the money I made.”

The Board will hold its last meeting tomorrow, after which it could recommend to Gov. Andrew Cuomo that he raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for fast food workers. “If this comes true, it will be significant because, while we live full of hope, time usually takes it away,” said Díaz. “I would like to have some money for the weekend, also so that, one day, I can return to my country without worries.”

Neither the governor’s office nor the Department of Labor (DOL) can confirm whether the amount will reach $15, but they explain that, after the board publishes and votes on the report and the recommendations, there will be a two-week period for evaluation and comments. After that, the raise could be considered if it has, in fact, been included in the recommendations.

“Any changes must be made through a wage order and do not require action on the part of the legislature,” said a DOL source. It is likely that, if a raise is agreed on, it will be introduced gradually and it will take a few years to reach the new level.

The board is only looking at the fast food sector, which refers to chains offering limited services and where customers pay at the counter or in advance before receiving their meals.

Generalized hope

Fast food employees are not the only ones with their hopes up. Other workers believe that this will also apply to them. “I am very happy that at least a large portion of the workers will get a minimum wage raise,” said Mauricio Jiménez, an Ecuadorean who works in construction. “A battle has been won, though not the war. All workers who are involved in the struggle will continue fighting and demanding this from the governor because immigrant labor is important,” said the Queens resident.

Jiménez said that, if he could get $15 in the construction field, he would consider studying to become a specialist and would also send more money to his family in Ecuador.

His sentiment is shared by Elba Meneses, a Mexican laundromat worker. “It would be a great advantage in my life. At $15 an hour, I would have more time for my daughter to raise her. It would be an advantage. I could also send my mother a little more money; I don’t send her much right now,” she said.

On a good week, Meneses takes home as much as $650. But she does this by bouncing from one job to another: She works at two different laundromats and also cleans an apartment in Manhattan. “I am happy that they were able to achieve this for fast food (workers), but I’d like to join in too. Not only laundromats; there are many businesses that still pay very little: $8 or $10.”

Several community organizations and unions say that this is only the beginning.

Activists have stated that, after fast food restaurants, the fight will continue for better conditions in healthcare professions, one of the fastest-growing sectors in the country. “People do not understand how hard our job is. We have to be everything to the patients: caregivers, therapists, family. I spent 8 years tending to a patient who was lonely and depressed,” said caregiver Dolores Redroban. “The fight for the $15 is our next step to obtain the pay we caregivers deserve for the hard work we do.”

According to DOL figures, 60 percent of fast food restaurant workers participate in at least one public assistance program. Nationwide, these employees are twice as likely to need this type of help. In New York state, 75 percent of them earn wages lower than reported, that is, $9.25 per hour or less.

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