ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A push to raise the minimum wage despite a political stalemate brought the Occupy Albany movement to New York's Capitol on Tuesday while dozens of clergy statewide pressured the Senate's Republican majority and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
"A living wage is possible, this movement is unstoppable!" chanted 40 demonstrators from the Capitol's ornate Million Dollar Staircase. "It's shameful and outrageous!"
The group chanted as they walked past the Senate's offices and to Cuomo's office to drop off letters pushing Cuomo to get his allies to take up a minimum-wage bill passed by the Assembly. About 1 million workers earn the current $7.25-an-hour minimum wage; the Assembly bill would raise it to $8.50 an hour.
Neither Cuomo nor Skelos was in Albany, and neither would comment. The public Hall of Governors outside Cuomo's office was closed, its entrance guarded by three state police troopers.
Senate Republicans say the increase would kill jobs and threaten New York's fragile economic recovery. Restaurant and hotel operators, with lobbying clout in Albany, strongly oppose the proposal and warn it will force layoffs. Senate Republicans are now pushing a jobs bill that would cut taxes for employers to create jobs; they say the resulting economic boost could drive wages higher.
Cuomo says he supports the hike, but said it's politically impossible. He said it would be a more difficult political fight that the legalization of same-sex marriage. Last year, Cuomo helped draw key Senate Republican votes to pass the landmark legislation.
"He has proven he can make government work very quickly and effectively when he wants to and we think the minimum wage hike is crucially important and he needs to work on it," said Michael Kink. He's executive director of the Strong Economy for All Coalition, which is made up of labor unions and community organizations and spoke at the Occupy Albany rally.
"I think the Senate Republicans are largely controlled by business interests, many of which are opposed to the increase," said Collin Donnaruma, an Occupy Albany organizer and doctoral student studying political philosophy. "The governor has come out sort of tentatively and said he supports it, but isn't working hard and isn't making it a priority."
Meanwhile, clergy are pressuring Senate Republicans back in their home districts.
"We feel it is repugnant morally and reprehensible for persons who work every day to have to raise a family in poverty," said the Rev. Kevin Agee, pastor of the Hopps Memorial CME Church in Syracuse, a congregation of Christians, Methodists and Episcopalians.
He was among 67 clergy and faith leaders statewide who signed a letter to the Syracuse Post-Standard urging passage of a higher wage as "our moral obligation." They note nearly 8 in 10 New York voters support raising the wage, according to a recent Siena College poll.
"The actions of the governor and the state Senate indicate they only care about the fat cats who contributed big money to their campaign coffers and really could less about the people who elected them," Agee said.