Diverse Faith Groups Call for $15 Minimum Wage
Protestant, Jewish and Catholic leaders cite moral necessity of living wages
Albany (March 2, 2016) - Leaders representing a diverse group of faith-based organizations voiced their support Wednesday for a statewide $15 minimum wage along with additional funding to human service providers to cover higher wages. Speaking outside the Senate chamber, the Catholic, Protestant and Jewish leaders made the moral case for living wages and spoke to the struggles of faith-based service providers stretched by increasing need among the working poor.
“New Yorkers of all faiths share a belief in the dignity of all people. In our affluent state, no person should be hungry, homeless or unable to provide for their children. That’s why faith communities work hard to offer food, clothing and shelter to our neighbors in need. But we also know our acts of charity are not a solution. We need systemic solutions to systemic injustices, and we believe raising the minimum wage to $15 is one solution that will make a significant difference,” said Rev. Peter Cook, executive director of the New York State Council of Churches, which represents eight Protestant denominations and over 7,000 congregations across the state.
“One of the foundational principles of Reform Judaism is ‘tikkun olam’ or ‘healing the world.’ In New York State, glaring economic inequality calls out for healing,” said Barbara Zaron, co-chair of Reform Jewish Voice of New York State, a statewide advocacy group affiliated with Reform Judaism. “The minimum wage has lagged far behind the cost of living, leaving millions of working New Yorkers in or on the brink of poverty. Raising the minimum wage to $15 would be a significant step toward righting that wrong.”
Responding to opponents of the wage increase, faith leaders argued that government must step in to protect the rights of workers when employers fail to do so.
“We must remember that the economy exists for the person, not the person for the economy. Our efforts are not directed against free markets but, rather, seek to pursue economic justice where the marketplace, on its own, has failed to do so,” said Deacon Walter Ayres, director of Catholic Charities’ Commission on Peace and Justice in the diocese of Albany.
"The Episcopal Church has long supported a living wage as a basic standard of fairness and justice for workers. Quite simply it is wrong for our society to tolerate paying workers less than what is needed to support a decent living," said Damaris McGuire, Executive Director of the NYS Episcopal Public Policy Network, which represents the six Episcopal dioceses in New York State.
The Rev. Jim Ketcham, Executive Director of FOCUS Churches of Albany, said that faith communities who feed the hungry are especially attuned to the consequences of low wages. “Day after day, we meet guests at our food pantry and breakfast program that are working hard at jobs which do not pay them enough to live on. It is flatly immoral that some in our state should build enormous profits on the backs of workers who are paid so little. We are called by our faith to join with the working poor, who are our friends and neighbors, as they insist upon fair wages for their work," he said.
In addition to calling for a higher minimum wage, the faith groups also stressed the importance of increasing funding for human service providers who rely on state funding for their payrolls.
“Among the 3.2 million New Yorkers making less than $15 an hour are more than a quarter million human services workers who care for sick, elderly and disabled New Yorkers. Yet many of them struggle to take care of their own families because of their low wages. These workers need $15, too, which means that the state must increase funding to the agencies that employ them,” said Rev. Shannan Vance Ocampo, Transitional Presbyter of the Albany Presbytery, which represents 65 congregations of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in the Hudson Valley.
Other groups participating included Interfaith Impact of New York State, FOCUS Churches of Albany, Faith and Hunger Network, Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State and Hunger Action Network of New York State.