[Release] Workers, advocates hold 24-hour vigil as budget deadline nears

News Coverage: Cuomo, Lawmakers Down to the Wire on Budget Agreement

Photo in NYTimes: Medicaid Joins Minimum Wage as Complication in Budget Talks Workers to Hold 24-Hour Capitol Vigil to Push for $15 Minimum Wage

PRESS RELEASE FOR: Monday, March 28, 2016 Press Conference - 12:45pm, NYS Capitol, Outside Senate Chamber

Workers, advocates launch 24-hour vigil as budget deadline nears

Marathon protest calls for $15 wage statewide, paid family leave, food program funding 

Albany (March 28, 2016) - Low-wage workers, faith leaders and advocates began a 24-hour vigil at the Capitol Monday to call on the state legislature to include a $15 minimum wage, Paid Family Leave, and $51 million for the Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program in the state budget, which is due Friday. 

At a press conference launching the vigil, Amanda Monroe, a leader with the Albany Fight for 15 movement, responded to rumors that legislators are considering a wage lower than $15 for upstate workers. 

“Raising the wage to $12 or $13 over the next six years is just not good enough,” she said. “That is not going to get families like mine off of public assistance. It’s not going to allow me to give my sons the normal childhood they deserve.”

"This is not just an economic but a deeply moral human rights issue. Every worker in every town in New York State has the right to a wage that will lift their families out of poverty and make a decent life possible,” said Larry Cox, co-director of the Kairos Center for Rights, Religions and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. 

In addition to calling for a statewide $15 minimum wage, advocates urged lawmakers to pass Paid Family Leave and fully fund the Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program, which supports food pantries throughout the state.

“I stand here today hopeful that millions of New York workers will soon have access to paid family leave. But we must stand together to make sure that this program is not just window dressing; that it will provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave annually for all workers, with a wage benefit of at least 2/3 your average weekly wage,” said Blue Carreker of Citizen Action of New York.

"A budget is a moral document. It represents who we are and what we believe in.The issue of poverty is certainly getting much attention this session but the outcome is yet to reveal itself. The truth is we are a State with too many left behind. In New York alone there are over 2.7 million who are food insecure, including veterans, children, seniors, and the working poor. The state must meet its own standards and fully fund the Hunger Prevention Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP) so that Emergency Food Providers can meet the needs of those at their doors," said Susan Zimet , Executive Director , Hunger Action Network of NYS.

Addressing growing poverty and inequality in New York should be a state budget priority, faith leaders said.

“People who are struggling to provide food for their families deserve a government that is working to meet their needs. Raising the wage, paid family leave, and increased funding for hunger prevention not only make sense economically, but are the right thing to do. Any legislature that does not address these needs has abdicated its moral responsibilities. We urge our elected officials to pass a budget that serves all New Yorkers,” said Rev. Jim Ketcham, executive director of FOCUS Churches of Albany.

"When a family can’t pay the rent, care for sick children, or feed themselves after paying the electric bill, we have a big problem. Fortunately, we can do something about it. There is plenty of money in New York but we need our elected officials to courageously allocate the money in the right way," said the Rev. Peter Cook, executive director of the New York State Council of Churches.

“Last week many Christians celebrated Holy Week, the story of a dramatic confrontation between Jesus and the ruling elites. Christians are called to follow Jesus in this way, by challenging the societal powers that seek to benefit the few at the expense of the many. We urge elected leaders to pass a budget that works for all New Yorkers, which would include a minimum wage increase to $15, strong provisions for paid family leave, and support for emergency food programs. These are priorities that serve the common good, and must be implemented without delay,” said Rev. Dustin Wright, pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church in Rotterdam.

Following the press conference, participants took position outside the governor’s office and Assembly and Senate chambers, where they planned to remain until noon Tuesday. 

“Legislators have until April 1 to get the budget right. We will continue to raise our voices in prayer and protest until they do,” said the Rev. Emily McNeill, lead organizer of the New York State Labor-Religion Coalition.


PRESS RELEASE FOR:Tuesday, March 29, 2016 Press Conference - 12:00, NYS Capitol, Outside Governor's Office

Faith Leaders Conclude 24-hour vigil for $15 wage, Paid Family Leave, food program funding

Clergy and advocates say compromise is unacceptable on key budget issues

Albany (March 29, 2016) - After spending a chilly, windy night outside the Capitol, faith leaders and advocates completed their 24-hour vigil for a $15 minimum wage statewide, Paid Family Leave, and $51 million for the Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program.

At a press conference concluding the vigil, Rev. Emily McNeill of the Labor-Religion Coalition of NYS said that all three measures are urgent moral issues.

“Right now in the wealthy state of New York, full-time workers are deciding whether to pay the rent or the electric bill. Parents are wrestling with whether to spend needed time with a newborn or risk losing their jobs. Seniors are showing up to their food pantry at the end of the month and finding it empty. There is nothing but a lack of political will standing between this New York and the one we deserve, where all of us can earn a decent wage, care for our families, and put food on our tables. We need our leaders to lead - $15 wage statewide, Paid Family Leave and full funding for Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program this year.”

Workers, faith leaders and advocates began the vigil at noon Monday next to the Senate chamber and moved outside overnight while the Capitol Building and Concourse are closed to the public.

“We kept vigil for 24 hours, including outside in the cold, because the plight of our fellow New Yorkers is urgent: people need to earn a living wage, to be given paid family leave, and to have access to food,” said Joanna Nadeau, convenor of the Capital District Raise the Wage Coalition. “And while this vigil ends today at noon, let us be clear: we are not going anywhere. We will keep watch day and night, until the state delivers justice to the millions of New Yorkers who live in poverty. We are here asking New York to be a leader in the nation - to recognize that working poor should be an oxymoron, that anyone who puts in 40 hours a week should have enough money to feed their children or pay their rent. This is not complicated.”

“For many people in New York, being outside in the cold and wind is a daily reality. Too many people are in poverty or only one life crisis away,” said Joe Paparone of FOCUS Churches of Albany. “Every day at our food pantry and breakfast program, just two blocks up the street from the Capitol, we see our friends and neighbors struggling to survive. They are working hard and simply can’t make ends meet. But it doesn’t need to be this way. Our state has the opportunity to pass policies that will help lift people out of poverty and keep them out of poverty.”

Vigil participants dismissed the idea floated by some legislators that upstate New York have a minimum wage lower than $15.

“The governor’s original proposal to reach $15 upstate in 2021 was already a compromise,” said Rev. Peter Cook, executive director of the New York State Council of Churches. “Anything less simply keeps working people in poverty, and we can't accept that.”