The country, and the borough of Queens, got some good news in the past week. It started with the announcement by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that it was raising the minimum wage for nearly 40,000 low-income workers to a whopping $19 an hour by 2023. This was followed by Amazon’s telling almost 350,000 of its workers that their paychecks are getting bumped up to a $15 minimum hourly wage in coming days.
This action by both government and the private sector to increase wages is particularly important: Government and unions cannot be the sole stakeholders in the fight for wage equity. If they are, the fight for fair pay will devolve into toxic political rhetoric. Persuading private business to increase wages can stem that tide and build a consensus that will bind our country together, instead of tearing it apart.
We hope other businesses will realize this and follow Amazon’s lead, implementing higher wages that have been a long time coming.
For decades we have seen wages stagnate, while the economy has mostly hummed along with massive growth in GDP and wealth. This economic boom has helped provide additional jobs for the growing workforce both here in the United States and around the globe—but it has also been marked by a dearth of high-paying working-class jobs coupled with skyrocketing CEO and executive salaries.
It’s only been in the past few years, in the aftermath of the Wall Street collapse of 2009, where the idea of paying the lowest-wage workers more money has taken off. And it took off in part because of activism here in New York City. Members of 32BJ SEIU—the largest property-service–workers labor union in the country—have been calling for wage hikes at airports since 2012.
Around the same time, the “Fight for $15” gained huge traction when activists, through continuous walkouts and protests, forced Gov. Andrew Cuomo to use executive powers to raise the salaries of fast-food workers in 2015—one year after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio publicly called out the governor by pushing for a $15 minimum hourly wage. In 2016, Cuomo pushed the pay hike through the legislature and the GOP-controlled state Senate.
These higher wages should be applauded by all. Raising pay for the poorest workers in our community will ultimately lead to a fairer society with a larger working class—which has historically been the true measure of happiness and stability. We can only hope these successes continue to spur on a culture of wage growth that is not reliant on government action or union strength, but rather takes hold in our ethos as a society.