NYC Investing in People

New York Governor Cuomo recently pledged to establish a mandatory $15 minimum wage for all state workers. Boasting one of the worst income gaps in the nation, the move hopes to close that gap and stifle some of the unrest among the workers making the state run.

The mandatory minimum has its limits, though. It only covers workers employed by the state. Private industry employees and even state contractors are not covered by the proposed increase. The latter group includes foster care agencies, homeless shelters, after-school programs and senior centers.

If those workers wanted to exert some public relations pressure, it would be tough to combat those optics. Imagine a series of commercials or billboards with kids, older folks and the homeless juxtaposed with messaging that implies the governor doesn’t want to “take care” of the folks who take care of our most vulnerable populations.

Of course, it’s really not Cuomo’s province to make that call. Sure, these are technically government sponsored positions, but they are contracted out to nonprofit human service organizations. As such, winning agencies are often those who manage to make the lowest bids, and must then operate on a shoestring. The state saves money, and the most vulnerable receive care.

Cuomo said he didn’t want to single any particular group out, so he specifically limited the proposed legislation to only state workers. But now contract workers are saying he did, in fact, cut them out by not including contractors in the proposal.

The situation is fast dissolving into a lose-lose proposition that can be typical in politics. Move to fix one problem, and someone else immediately steps up pointing out how that “right” thing doesn’t go far enough. So on one side you have Cuomo’s people saying he can only do so much, and on the other you have folks who represent contract workers saying they are being unfairly marginalized.

Where you land on this as a news consumer largely depends on your basic political leanings. Those who support Cuomo will laud him for “doing what he can” while those who want workers to have more will chastise him for not demanding an across the board pay increase for all New York workers. Such is the minefield of the wage debate, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier. Leaders who wish to wade into the debate must communicate clearly, back up their points and stay on message.

David Milberg is an investment banker from NYC.

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