ICYMI: Capitol Janitor Authors Op-ed in El Diario NY Pleading for a $21.25 Minimum Wage

ALBANY, NY (03/30/2023) (readMedia)-- AJ Marbley, a janitorial worker in the New York State Capitol and a SEIU Local 200United member, wrote in an op-ed for El Diario NY that his $14.35 hourly wages are simply not enough anymore. Marbley, who cleans the very rooms and halls where state lawmakers are currently negotiating the state's minimum wage, pleads that workers like him across the state need nothing short of a $21.25 minimum wage. The Raise Up NY Coalition is fighting for a $21.25 minimum wage before indexing in order to effectively address the current cost-of-living-crisis. Raising the minimum wage to $21.25 prior to indexing would benefit 2.9 million New Yorkers by putting an average annual increase of $3,300 in their pockets, or $63/week - a far more effective solution than Governor Kathy Hochul's proposal to ignore the loss of buying power in the current wage and only index the minimum wage starting at $15.

Read the full text of the op-ed in Spanish here. English version below.

My Salary is Not Enough

By AJ Marbley

As a janitor at the State Capitol for over ten years, I look after the rooms where decisions are made. At just $14.35 an hour, I work in the same hallways as lawmakers and government employees creating policies that are meant to serve working people like me. I'm proud of my work, my role in government, and my position as a union leader with SEIU Local 200United, but my wages are no longer enough. We are living through the greatest cost-of-living-crisis in 40 years: trips to the grocery store have never been this expensive, and phone and electricity bills are through the roof. Workers like myself making near the minimum wage haven't had a significant raise in years, and we desperately need one.

Once my son is home from school, I work late nights cleaning offices – often working around government employees' schedules to get the job done. The job is labor intensive and I often notice how grueling the work can be for my older colleagues. And ever since the pandemic, our work has only become more demanding while our wages have remained the same. Many of my colleagues have left for new jobs because the pay is simply not worth the work.

I live off $14.35 to provide for my family, put food on the table for my 10 year old son, and help pay back my girlfriend's student loans. Living paycheck to paycheck, money flows through my hands without any opportunity to save. If we were to experience another financial crisis again, like another pandemic, I don't think my family could survive it. With my current wages, I'm no longer able to build a safety net for myself and my family.

Within the next month New York State lawmakers will decide how to respond to this cost-of-living crisis. Governor Kathy Hochul is proposing minor annual increases to the minimum wage starting at $15. This plan would reach only 900,000 New Yorkers and create annual increases of just $670, or $13 a week. Her plan wouldn't even begin to scratch the surface. With sky-high prices, a $15 minimum wage is worth just $12.75 in today's dollars. Workers like me are already behind, and indexing the minimum wage without raising it first wouldn't give us a chance to catch up.

Alternatively, a coalition of impacted workers, unions, small businesses, and advocates are fighting for the Raise the Wage Act - a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $21.25 upstate by 2027 and adjust it automatically each year after that to keep pace with rising costs and worker productivity. If passed, 2.9 million workers would receive an annual raise of $3,300 – or an additional $63/week.

$21.25 represents the minimum wage if $15 had been tied to inflation in the first place. For me, $21.25 minimum wage would mean I could finally feel some sense of relief. I would be able to save again. I'd put food on the table and pay our bills without fear of an unexpected circumstance turning my entire world upside down. We could go on family outings while also paying off our student debt. I could actually spend time just for myself and take up hobbies like I used to. I could live a full and well-rounded life again.

My story is not an anomaly, and I am just one of the nearly 3 million workers that would benefit from the Raise the Wage Act. With every worker making near the minimum wage, there is a struggling family like mine simply trying to keep up with soaring prices. New York lawmakers now have a choice: leave us behind or help us and our families stay afloat.