Better than Papua New Guinea
It was Long Island’s turn to personally hear Cuomo’s Paid Family Leave stump speech but will Albany once again let us down
On the morning of Monday, March 7th New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was greeted by the Long Island labor leader community at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 25 union hall in Hauppauge, NY. A press event / rally with labor-friendly elected officials witnessed Cuomo speak on his two key budget proposals; raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and establishing a Paid Family Leave program in the Empire State.
Scores of union leaders, flanked by some of their loyal ranks were greeted with opening remarks by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, Assemblyman Phil Ramos (D-Central Islip) and National Organization of Women New York President Sonia Ossorio. They fired up the crowd about the importance of enacting a program that allows workers to be with their family members during the most important points in their lives - the birth of a child and caring for a sick family member. With three weeks to go until the New York State legislature votes on the state budget, Cuomo has been spending the last few weeks campaigning to his once disenfranchised labor base and glad handing with elected officials to gain support for his proposals. A notice was sent out from Cuomo’s Long Island Regional Representative to the labor and political community a few days prior to today’s event as a “special announcement” even though the Governor has been announcing these initiatives for the past 2 weeks.
The Governor started off his speech by talking about his commitment to bringing jobs to New York and how we now have created the most jobs in New York’s history, but they are not the same type of jobs that used to be created. “They are different jobs then the jobs we had 20 years ago. They don’t pay as well, fewer people have pensions in our society, fewer people have job security, and fewer people have unions,” said Governor Cuomo. “It’s unions that equalized the playing field and got people a better deal.” The teachers union was absent from today’s event.
After talking about how we need to end the politics of blame that many politicians thrive on, the Governor put forth his agenda. First, he spoke about raising the minimum wage to $15/hour for all workers in the state. Last year, after holding Wage Board hearings across the state, Governor Cuomo instituted a $15/hr. wage for all Fast Food workers. He was able to use an executive order to increase fast food wages but he will now need to rely on the scandal ridden State legislature to raise the wage for everyone else. In his remarks Cuomo mentioned that when President Franklin Roosevelt instituted the first National Minimum Wage Law, it was meant to provide a decent living because all work has dignity and respect and that $9/hour does not do that.
After his brief overview of the Fight for $15, the Governor got into the reason why everyone was there, paid family leave. With a few activists bringing their little ones to the event as adorable little props, the Governor’s Paid Family Leave plan piggybacks off of the Federal Family Leave Act. The federal law protects worker’s jobs for 12 unpaid weeks after the birth of a child, but as the Governor said - “who can really afford to take 12 unpaid weeks off?” The Governor’s plan would expand the Temporary Disability Insurance program to cover someone who needs to take time off to care for a newborn or adopted child or to take care of a sick family member. By expanding the insurance plan, employees would be able to dip into the fund while they are taking care of a loved one. According to the Governor, the Temporary Disability Insurance is a tax that is already paid for by the employee and would cost an employer nothing. The Governor touted his own experience last year caring for his dying father, former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, as the spark that got the campaign moving. “It’s just being there, it’s being there to hold a hand, its being there because it’s the right thing. I had the option of being there, but I still wasn’t there enough,” said the Governor. I don’t even remember what I needed to do instead, but I made a mistake I should have been there more.”
The Governor mentioned that only two countries in the world that do not have paid family leave, the United States and Papua New Guinea. If New York was to enact both of these policies, they would become the state with the highest minimum wage in the country and one of only four states to provide paid family leave. The others are California, New Jersey and Rhode Island. The Governor finished his remarks by saying that this is a fight to even the economic playing field but it can only happen if the people make their voices heard. With three weeks to go until a budget is passed, many of the attendees will need to work hard to lobby their elected officials to support the Paid Family Leave Act. While the State Assembly has always been in favor of Paid Family Leave and has already approved the measure, the State Senate has consistently voted against it. Some Republicans in the Senate have already expressed concerns about the program. "He's imposing additional burdens on businesses," Deputy Majority Leader Senator John DeFrancisco said. "The fact that we're already 49th or 50th worse for state business climates, that concerns me." Your guess is as good as ours where DeFrancisco gets that statistic from.
Even though a recent Siena poll found that 80% of New Yorkers support Paid Family Leave, it will still be an uphill climb in Albany. For more information on the Paid Family Leave Campaign and how you can help click here. You can also listen to an interview that UCOMM Radio did with on the Paid Family Leave campaign here.
Brian Young contributed to this story.