Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A $15/hr livable wage, not a minimum wage

By Bob Gaydos
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo
... wants a $15/hr minimum wage
When New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo raised the ante on the state's minimum wage a couple of weeks ago, saying that $15 an hour sounded good to him, he also changed the nature of the political debate about what people get paid.    
For those who decide such things -- well-paid politicians, usually -- no longer is it a question of how little can we get away with paying people to do boring, tiresome jobs we wouldn't do ourselves, but rather, what constitutes a minimum amount people can actually support themselves on? What’s a minimum livable wage?
With echoes of his late father’s call to take heed that all are included in the fruits of a prospering society, Cuomo did an about-face on the $15-an-hour wage shortly after signing on to that rate as a minimum for fast-food workers in the state. A panel appointed by Cuomo had recommended the $15 minimum and the state labor board agreed. Cuomo made it official. That rate will be phased in over six years.
But that left the state with the somewhat awkward circumstance of largely part-time, fast-food workers earning more than some people working at other, full time jobs in offices, schools, etc. Challenged on this contradiction, Cuomo was quick to recognize it. If $15 an hour is the minimum that fast-food workers need to live in New York without depending on other assistance, it certainly is a fair minimum wage for all workers in the state, he agreed. He said he would urge the state Legislature to approve the increase.
On cue, Republicans went into mock shock at the thought that every New Yorker should be able to earn, not just a wage, but a livable wage. Alluding to the governor’s own comment of a few months ago that a $15-an-hour minimum wage being sought by fast-food workers was “too high” and that $10.50 an hour was more realistic, State Sen. Jack M. Martins, chairman of the Senate Labor Committee, said, “I really don’t know what happened between $10.50 six months ago and $15 now. What’s the significance of $15? In my mind it’s a political number. The governor has not established $15 as a fair number.”
Well, I can’t read the governor’s mind, but let me answer Martins’ question anyway. What happened between $10.50 an hour and $15 is that the Republican-controlled state Senate flatly rejected Cuomo’s request for $10.50 and agreed instead to phase in a raise in the state minimum wage from $8.75 an hour to $9 an hour next year. Apparently, Republicans senators -- who are paid a base salary of $79,500 a year and receive a $172 per diem allowance -- consider a quarter-an-hour raise to be a major beneficence.
So maybe Cuomo did some calculations, mathematical and, yes, political, and decided it made no sense any more piddling around with proposals for small, incremental increases when the math added up otherwise. At $15 an hour, for a 40-hour week, someone would earn about $31,200 a year. That’s a barely livable wage for someone with a small family, but it’s a lot better than the $21,840 that a $10.50-an-hour salary adds up to.
In fact, that $21,840 is barely above the $20,090 federal poverty level for a family of three, according to government figures used to qualify people for a variety of assistance programs, including Medicaid. The $9-an-hour rate New York legislators generously approved comes to $18,720 for a full time, 40-hour work week. Of course, fast-food franchises typically don’t hire anyone for a 40-hour-week, thereby saving on overtime, insurance, sick pay, vacation and other benefits. The $15-an-hour rate would at least help workers make up for some of those exclusions.
The idea didn’t originate in New York. The cities of Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley have plans in motion to raise their minimum wage to $15 an hour. New York would be the first state to do so.
But is it, as Martins questioned, a fair number? Apparently New Yorkers think so.Two recent surveys showed a solid majority of residents in favor of the $15 minimum wage. A Quinnipiac University poll found that 62 percent approved of $15 an hour, with Democrats and Independents favoring it and Republicans opposing. A more recent survey conducted by Siena College found that 59 percent of respondents support an across-the-board $15 minimum wage, while 38 percent oppose it. Again, Republicans were against the rate, Democrats in favor. That speaks volumes about what the two parties stand for.
The business community in New York has, not surprisingly, joined with the restaurant industry in arguing against the $15-an-hour wage. Senator Martins even said many fast-food franchise owners were “scared” of the proposal and worried about their ability to stay open. Cuomo couldn’t say anything about that prospect for political reasons, but I can’t help but think that a few less fast-food establishments would be a major boon for the entire country, reducing obesity and other health problems and lowering health costs along the way, including Medicaid and Medicare expenses.
Business associations have also raised the usual argument that raising the state’s minimum wage would force some employers to cut payrolls. That’s just an argument to keep wages stagnant while profits rise. It also never seems to come up when top executives get huge raises.
In reality, when the wages of the lowest-paid workers are increased, they spend more money on goods and services and depend less on taxpayer-funded government subsidies. The money doesn’t go into offshore accounts. As opposed to the Reaganesque trickle-down GOP fantasy of giving the wealthy tax cuts so that they will invest more in the economy and thereby raise workers’ salaries -- never happened, never will -- a higher minimum wage actually trickles up through the economy, benefitting everyone.
And for all the doom-and-gloomers accusing Cuomo of playing to the populist mood of the country, there’s also the political reality that Cuomo is not about to casually alienate the state’s business owners. He says the new wage would be phased in over a period of years, allowing businesses to plan. He also says he’d propose tax cuts for businesses (they love that) and look to reduce other burdens (regulations), so that the increase would be affordable.
It sounds fair to me. In fact, it sounds like something I could live with.

For alcoholics, no time like the present to get help

Addiction and Recovery

By Bob Gaydos
Yankees pitcher C.C. Sabathia entered
rehab on the eve of the playoffs.
“I need help.”
The ability to utter that simple phrase can sometimes be the difference between life and death. It most certainly is the most important first step on the road to recovery for someone struggling with a problem with alcohol or drugs.
According to New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi, those are the first words Yankee pitcher C.C. Sabathia said when he walked into Girardi’s office on Oct. 6 during the team’s lost weekend in Baltimore.
“I was shocked,” Girardi said.
Maybe he was; maybe he wasn’t. It certainly wasn’t the kind of news Girardi needed to hear after watching his team play listlessly in losing three games to the Baltimore Orioles. The Yankees were supposed to be getting ready for the playoffs, but looked more like they were getting ready to take the rest of the year off. Now, here was one of the pitchers who Girardi was counting on to pitch in the playoffs telling him he was entering an alcohol rehab immediately and would not be available to the team for the rest of the year.
The timing could not have been worse ... for the Yankees. For Sabathia, it was apparently perfect. Indeed, for an alcoholic looking for help, timing is everything.
Girardi’s response -- the entire Yankee organization’s response -- to the news was also, from all appearances, perfect. Do what you have to do, C.C. Take care of yourself. Get help. We’ll soldier on without you and see you next year.
That didn’t stop some fans and commentators on sports radio shows from wondering, even complaining, about the timing of Sabathia’s decision. In essence, the complaints boiled down to: How could he do this on the eve of a playoff game? Doesn’t he have any loyalty to the team? How about that big paycheck he’s getting? If he’s had a drinking problem for a while, why couldn’t he wait a little longer and go to rehab when the Yankees weren’t playing baseball any more?
Except that Sabathia couldn’t wait and the Yankees knew it. With addiction, there is no “if.” There is only “now.”  “If I could just hang on until the playoffs are over and then go to rehab” could easily dissolve into “if only we had insisted he go to rehab when he asked for help.” The nature of the disease is to deny and to rationalize. It’s not so bad. I’ll cut down. No one will notice. The team needs me. I can handle it.
Until he can’t. The hope might be that no serious damage occurs to the alcoholic or anyone else during any period of waiting until it’s “more convenient” to get help. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Too often, in fact, that cry for help turns into a sigh of futility. What the heck, the alcoholic says; this is who I am. Why fight it? Who needs rehab? My life’s a mess anyway. I’ll just drink until I die.
That’s why, when that moment of clarity comes, via some painful self-realization of the alcoholic or with the perhaps not-so-gentle prodding of loved ones, the time to act is at hand.    
Brian Cashman, the Yankees general manager who signed Sabathia to a $161 million, seven-year contract in 2009, heard the news in a conference call that included Sabathia, Girardi and, significantly, Sabathia’s wife, Amber. “What CC is dealing with is a life issue,” Cashman said later at a press conference. “It is bigger than the game. … “All that matters now is what’s happening now, which is obviously he’s going to get the help necessary in a structured environment.”
Sabathia, who has had problems this year on and off the playing field, seemed to grasp the significance of his decision. He released a statement saying, “I love baseball and I love my teammates like brothers, and I am also fully aware that I am leaving at a time when we should all be coming together for one last push toward the World Series. It hurts me deeply to do this now, but I owe it to myself and to my family to get myself right. I want to take control of my disease, and I want to be a better man, father and player.”
At 300 pounds, Sabathia has been a bigger-than-life man, a proud man, a team leader, an all-star pitcher and World Series champion. He is also a husband and father. In humbling himself and publicly admitting he needs help to deal with alcoholism, he has at least suggested that he sees life in a different way today, that he has had a moment of clarity. If it is genuine, as his family, friends, fans and teammates hope, he will have taken the first step towards a life of recovery. For an alcoholic, there’s no time like the present for that.