Cardinal Timothy Dolan gave his support to those trying to raise New York’s minimum wage Wednesday, saying “the status quo is not working” and calling the current $9 per hour minimum wage “too low.”
“We can all agree that a minimum wage is valuable protection for laborers, and that the current level is too low,” Dolan wrote in the New York Daily News. “We can also find common ground in recalling that our workers not only deserve a living wage, but also benefits to help with health insurance, pensions, sick leave and vacation.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Democratic lawmakers there are pushing for a $15 per hour minimum wage, to be phased in by 2021.
But they are facing pushback from some small business owners about the added labor costs.
Dolan addressed those concerns in his column, but he called on all sides to seek common ground in an effort to grant workers a “living wage.”
“The Bible teaches that workers deserve their pay, and that laborers cannot be reduced to objects to be used, abused and thrown away when no longer needed,” he wrote. “Successful business leaders realize that when they treat their employees well, the morale and production of their workers go way up, as does the buying power of the population, which generates more business.”
Dolan cited last year’s Synod of Bishops in Rome, in which he participated, as justification for supporting an increase in the minimum wage.
The bishops, he wrote, “were clear that less-than-adequate pay can threaten the peace and security of a family.”
“There’s already way too much pressure on our families, with evident cultural erosion as a result. A lot of problems in the family and home seem beyond remedy,” he continued. “This one is not. That’s why raising the minimum wage to a living wage is so important.”
Dolan noted that the Church has no position on minimum wage laws, but said it has a long tradition of promoting the dignity of workers. He said he uses his visits in Rome to reflect on those teachings.
“One place I make it a point to visit is the tomb of Pope Leo XIII, who taught back in 1891 that every worker deserves a ‘living wage,’ which he defined as one which allows the worker to care for his or her family in ‘reasonable and frugal comfort,’ tending to their home, education and health,” he wrote.
This isn’t the first time Dolan has teamed up with Cuomo to support legislation. Last year, Dolan gave a boost to the governor’s proposal to increase tax credits that would benefit parents who send their children to Catholic schools. While the measure ultimately failed, the archdiocese and Cuomo are still advocating for a similar plan.
Dolan isn’t alone among bishops calling for an increase in the minimum wage.
Last summer, Miami’s Archbishop Thomas Wenski urged Congress to increase the federal minimum wage, which stands at $7.25 per hour.
“Protecting low-wage workers and promoting their ability to form and nurture families are shared responsibilities and critical to building a more equitable society,” Wenski co-wrote with Catholic Charities USA president Sister Donna Markham in a letter to lawmakers. “One way Congress can contribute to this shared work of promoting the common good is by ensuring the federal minimum wage promotes family formation and stability.”
The Catholic bishops of Massachusetts urged lawmakers there to increase the minimum wage in 2014.
“We do not pretend to be economists and thus leave it to those more knowledgeable in that area to determine a just wage for the lowest paid workers,” read a letter signed by four bishops, including Cardinal Sean O’Malley. “Regardless, the costs for the basic necessities of life continue to escalate year after year. Low income families are the hardest hit by these ever-increasing costs.”
The minimum wage in that state was eventually raised three dollars, to $11 per hour, and lawmakers are considering legislation to bump it to $15.
And in 2013, Stockton, Calif. Bishop Stephen Blaire testified before Congress, urging lawmakers to increase in the federal minimum wage.
“Work should be a ladder out of poverty for families, it should not trap them in poverty,” he said. “Yet this is where we find ourselves–a growing number of families are working but do not make enough to live in dignity. It is a scandal that the richest country world has allowed over 23 million children in working poor families to become the norm.”
The push for a $15 per hour minimum has heated up in recent months, with Seattle, New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles passing legislation to ease in the hike over a period of several years.
A union representing fast food workers took to the streets last year to demand an increase to $15 per hour, and both Democratic candidates for president support an increase in the minimum wage.
The GOP candidates for president argue that raising the minimum wage will lead to increased unemployment.