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Into the Dust

A small but impassioned group gathered outside the office of State Senator Mark Grisanti at 65 Court Street to lobby the lawmaker to vote in favor of raising the state minimum wage to $8.50 an hour. Grisanti, a Republican, is seen as a critical swing vote in the GOP-dominated Senate—he favors raising the minimum wage, but only by 25 cents an hour. Such a small hourly increase is “degrading,” according to Reverend Linda Heffley of VOICE-Buffalo, a grassroots, faith-based community organization, who led the assembly of protesters.

“The ancient prophet Amos railed against the injustice of his day, holding those in power responsible, telling them they were treading the heads of the poor into the dust,” said Heffley in a prepared speech. “The minimum wage increase of 25 cents an hour continues to drive the heads of the poor into the dust. Is this what Grisanti supports?”

The words of those in attendance might not fall on deaf ears: Grisanti was famously one of the Republicans who voted in favor of New York’s recently passed Marriage Equality Enactment, which legalized same-sex marriage, despite initially opposing the measure. His recent fiscally conservative and pro-corporate voting record, however, might prove such optimism unfounded. The state senator has voted against maintaining existing rent control legislation and for an eventual reduction of Roswell Park’s public funding; these and other stances have led Al Coppola, Michael Amodeo, and Chuck Swanick, all Democrats, to challenge Grisanti’s seat. Kevin Stocker, a Republican, is challenging Grisanti, too.

Central to Republican opposition and the reticence of Governor Andrew Cuomo to prioritize the measure is the notion that a hike in minimum wage will harm business. Those outside Grisanti’s office challenged this talking point.

“We found through talking with small businesses that they pay their workers much more than larger national retail corporations, which are predominate payers of minimum wage,” said Allison Duwe, director for the Coalition for Economic Justice. “This really is about big corporations trying to avoid their responsibility and not about small mom-and-pop businesses, which are paying above minimum wage and are really circulating money in the local economy.”

If Cuomo and the Republican-controlled Senate don’t knuckle under to the will of the 78 percent of New Yorkers who support a raise in minimum wage, there’s always Canada, where crummy entry-level service industry jobs pay a minimum of $15 an hour.

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