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Published on April 4, 2016, by in RJV.

Workers Rally for a $15 Minimum Wage

After months of deliberation and intense, last-minute negotiations, the New York State Legislature has approved the 2016-2017 budget. We are thrilled that this year’s budget contains important advances for working families and protects public education in the Empire State.

With passage of this budget, New York will become the second state to provide a $15 dollar minimum wage, though it will be phased in at different rates in different places. New York City will see its minimum wage rise to $15 per hour in 2018, and wages in Westchester County and Long Island will increase to that level over six years. Upstate, the minimum wage will increase to $12.50 per hour by 2021, and after that the state’s Budget Division will control the pace of increases up to $15 per hour. While many New Yorkers will see a longer delay than expected in their wage increase, the policy outlined in the budget will make substantial progress towards providing workers with the living wage they deserve.

We are also thrilled by the adoption of a paid family leave policy – the fourth and most generous state policy in the nation – that will allow workers to take paid time off of work be there for their loved ones. This program grows gradually as well, providing eight weeks of leave starting in 2018 and twelve weeks in 2021. According to some estimates, 6.4 million New Yorkers who previously did not have paid family leave will be able to spend time with newborn children or care for sick relatives under this program.

We also appreciate the budget’s strong support of public education, especially its exclusion of the Education Tax Credit, a harmful policy that would have essentially diverted money necessary to support thriving public schools in favor of private and religious schools. As a Movement that sees public education as vital, and that prizes the separation between church and state, we actively worked to oppose this credit and are glad it did not make it into the final budget. The budget also contains important funding for public schools across New York State, with a $1.5 billion dollar increase in state aid and a complete end to the gap elimination adjustment, which had reduced school aid in order to make up for budget shortfalls.

Our Torah contains a sobering reminder that “there will never cease to be needy ones in your land” and continues with an exhortation to “open your hand to the poor and needy kin in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:11). Our Reform Jewish Movement has long recognized that government policies and programs, including a minimum wage that is a living wage, paid family leave and public education that serves all play an integral role in serving our community and lifting fellow New Yorkers out of poverty.

While there is much to celebrate in this budget, we also know that our work to build an Empire State of Tzedek is far from over. You can join in this important process by registering today for Advocacy Day, which will take place in Albany on May 9. Join us for the unforgettable opportunity to learn about the key issues facing New York State, discuss the Jewish values that apply to those issues and meet with your legislators.

Feature image courtesy of the All-Nite Images, Flickr.