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Cuomo restarts the fight for $15 

Governor Andrew Cuomo will set the tone for this year's legislative session in Albany when he gives his combined State of the State and budget address on Wednesday, January 13. At the top of his list: a true, statewide, cross-industry $15 an hour minimum wage.

Approximately 2.4 million New Yorkers — a quarter of the state workforce — earn less than $15 an hour, including 166,398 workers in the Finger Lakes region, according to a press release from the governor's office.

In Monroe County, approximately 37 percent of the workforce — 127,500 workers — earned less than $15 an hour in the fourth quarter of 2013, according to a January 2014 study by the Fiscal Policy Institute.

Some of the workers are employed in fields well-known for paying minimum or low wages: food service, hospitality, retail, customer service, home health services, and laundry operations.

A 40-hour a week job that pays $15 an hour works out to $31,200 a year before taxes and deductions. New York Department of Labor statistics show that on average, pharmacy technicians, nursing aides and other health care support workers, bank tellers, and tire installers are under that threshold.

Approximately 380 support staff, including custodial and food service workers, are paid less than $15 an hour in the Rochester City School District, says Dan DiClemente, president of BENTE AFSCME Local 2419. The union represents 1,200 district support staff members.

Cuomo tried to push through a universal $15 an hour minimum wage during the 2015 legislative session, but Senate Republicans blocked the proposal. Whether they'll go along with Cuomo this time is unclear. During a hearing on the minimum wage last week, some Republican senators seemed open to an increase, though maybe not as much of an increase as Cuomo wants.

In the absence of Legislative action, Cuomo has used his executive authority to boost pay in some industries. He ushered through a $15 an hour minimum wage for some fast food workers and for state employees; both increases will be fully phased in by July 2021.

As Cuomo announced his 2016 push, he also announced that SUNY system officials have committed to a $15 minimum wage for their workers.

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, as well as her counterparts in Buffalo and Syracuse, have also agreed to the $15 minimum for their cities' workers; the increase will be phased in following the same schedule that the Cuomo administration set for fast food workers and state employees. In Rochester, 116 municipal employees will see a wage bump, says a press release from the governor and the mayor.

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