For Immediate Release: May 8, 2015
Contact: Maria Myotte, maria@rocunited.org, 720-352-6153

STATEMENT: ROC United Supports Gov. Cuomo’s Move to Increase Wages for New York’s Fast-Food Workers

The following statement can be attributed to Saru Jayaraman, co-director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, in response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to impanel a wage board to set a higher minimum wage for fast-food workers:

“Governor Cuomo’s announcement that he will impanel a wage board to examine wages in the fast-food sector is welcome news. Fast-food workers need a raise, and their fight for $15/hour has clearly inspired the governor.

“With 11 million employees and nearly 1 in 12 Americans working in a restaurant, the restaurant industry is one of the largest and fastest-growing sectors of our economy. America goes out to eat more than any other country, with over half of our food budgets spent in restaurants. And yet, the restaurant industry has the notorious distinction of providing the absolute lowest paying jobs. In New York, six of the ten lowest paying jobs are in the restaurant industry. New  York restaurant workers are twice as likely to need public assistance, such as food stamps.

“While Cuomo’s action represents real progress, it is not politically risky. New Yorkers have consistently affirmed that the minimum wage is too low, especially the wages in the fast-food sector and the restaurant industry as a whole.

“Earlier this year, the wage-board process was used to provide a much needed increase to the state’s tipped workers, the vast majority of whom work in the restaurant industry. Tipped workers occupy a particularly vulnerable position, as New York law allows their pay to be as low as $5.00/hour, meaning that they are forced to make a living from inadequate, unreliable tips. While the tipped minimum wage was recently increased to $7.50, it’s still short of ending the two-tiered system altogether. Still, this increase marks an important step in the right direction, and the experience showed the governor what a powerful tool the wage board can be when New Yorkers are calling for action.

“That said, Gov. Cuomo’s action is a testament to the power of low-wage workers uniting to demand fair wages. Lifting wages in the restaurant industry is not a form of charity, but a question of basic fairness. While the minimum wage was designed to give working people voice by ensuring that their work is truly valued, today it merely guarantees that people who work hard remain in poverty. Meanwhile, corporate CEO’s make millions of dollars in profits on the backs of their workers, and of taxpayers who subsidize the industry through the government programs that restaurant workers must turn to because they can’t make ends meet.

“We hope Governor Cuomo’s wage board moves quickly and aggressively to lift wages in the fast-food industry and ultimately expands the examination of the restaurant industry as a whole.”

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Co-founded by leading workers’ rights advocate Saru Jayaraman (“One of the top 50 most influential people in the restaurant industry” – Nation’s Restaurant News) ROC United has grown to close to 14,000 worker-members across over 30 cities in the US, winning 15 worker-led campaigns, totaling $8 million in stolen tips and wages.