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Activists call for local ability to raise minimum wage

Advocates for low-income Long Islanders rallied Friday in support of a measure that would allow cities and counties to supplement the state minimum wage.

The event, held in Brentwood – one of Suffolk County’s more economically depressed regions – was led by the community organizers Make the Road New York and featured minority rights groups, the Working Families Party and state Assemb. Phil Ramos, a Democrat who represents Brentwood.

Speakers argued that the state’s $8-an-hour minimum wage – soon to be $9 – isn’t livable in downstate municipalities such as Suffolk and Nassau counties, and in New York City, where the cost of living is among the highest in the nation. Their protests come as fast-food workers from around the country have organized in support of raising the minimum wage to $15-an-hour.

“We need Albany to let counties like Suffolk and Nassau, two of the most expensive places in the country, raise their minimum wage,” said Miriam Elaraby, a Make the Road New York member who attended the rally along with people who held signs reading ‘Local Power to Raise the Wage.” “For too long, wages have stayed the same, while the price of the things we consume goes up and up.”

State Sen. Andrea Stewart Cousins (D-Yonkers) and Assemb. Karim Camara (D-Brooklyn) have co-sponsored a bill to allow municipalities to raise the state minimum wage.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, has pushed for such authority, but Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the State Senate, which is co-controlled by Republicans and a group of breakaway Democrats, have said they see no reason to act after voting to raise the state minimum wage from $7.25 to $8-an-hour at the start of this year, and to $9-an-hour about two years from now.

Opponents of raising the minimum wage any further argue that it will increase employers' labor costs and force cutbacks that will ultimately harm the economy.

But organizers of Friday’s rally in Brentwood disagree, and said they are also distributing petitions in various low-income Long Island communities that call on local representatives to support the bill from Stewart Cousins and Camara.

"The extra income these individuals earn is returned back into the economy when they make purchases or pay bills, providing for growth and serious economic stimulus," Ramos said.

Proponents also point to the growing income gap on Long Island. The top 10 percent of highest-paid workers here saw their household income drop 3 percent since its high point in 2008, according to the Long Island Index, a Rauch Foundation project. But the bottom 10 percent of lowest-paid workers saw their income decline 17 percent from their high point in 2007, according to the data.

“Raising the minimum wage is a win-win for Long Island workers and the economy,” said Rosa Quiles, a member of New York Communities for Change. “It will put more money in the pockets of workers, who can then spend more at local businesses to help Long Island grow.”

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