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Babylon rally pushes for minimum wage hike

Concerned workers demonstrate in Brentwood for the increase

Concerned workers demonstrate in Brentwood for the increase of minimum wage. (May 24, 2012) Credit: Chris Ware

Supporters of raising New York's minimum wage called on state senators Thursday to pass the bill before the regular legislative session ends June 21.

About 45 people, some minimum-wage workers, rallied outside Babylon's Long Island Rail Road station and then walked along Main Street to the closed office of Sen. Owen Johnson (R-West Babylon). They left him petitions and letters signed by about 1,000 local residents.

The activists, from unions, immigrant rights groups, churches and liberal organizations, urged the Republican-controlled State Senate to join the Assembly's Democratic majority in hiking the hourly wage rate, from $7.25 to $8.50, on Jan. 1.

"I can barely afford the $800 rent I have to pay, plus all of my family expenses," said Isabel Sanchez, 44, an unemployed cook from Babylon. She said she worked at a Brentwood deli for five years until February, when the owner allegedly fired her because hospitalization prevented her from working.

"I want to be able to work, to prosper in life, but $7.25 is not enough for anyone to live on," said Sanchez, a member of the immigrant group Make the Road New York, an organizer of Thursday's protest.

Johnson, in a statement, said he was "carefully studying" the potential economic impact of raising the minimum wage. "We certainly do not want to take any action that would result in the loss of businesses and the loss of jobs," he said, describing the state's economy as "unstable."

Union leaders and clergy doubted pink slips would result from a higher minimum wage.

John Durso, president of the Long Island Federation of Labor, said employers could absorb the cost of the wage increase.

The Fiscal Policy Institute, a union-backed think tank, estimated Thursday that 126,500 Long Islanders, out of the 1.4 million employed, would benefit from a higher minimum wage. The number includes workers earning $8.49 per hour or less.

Roughly 32,000 local residents were paid the current $7.25 minimum or less last year -- 2.3 percent of those employed -- based on ratios in statewide data calculated by Newsday. (Service industry workers earning tips can legally be paid less than the minimum.)

Charlene Obernauer, local director of the activist group Jobs with Justice, said the state's Catholic bishops, Protestant groups, Costco stores and some small businesses have endorsed the proposed increase.

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