Bishop Matthew H. Clark joined eight area religious leaders in expressing discontent with Gov. George E. Pataki’s July 29 veto of a bill that would have increased the state’s minimum wage to $7.15 by 2007.
In an Aug. 10 letter, Bishop Clark and the other religious leaders urged New York State Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno to schedule a vote to override Pataki’s veto of the bill, which had passed 57-7 in the Senate and 116-19 in the Assembly in late July.
“We believe that this veto does a grave injustice to the working people of the state,” the letter stated. “We believe, as we know you do, that when people work hard and contribute to society, they should be able to pay for the necessities of life for themselves and their families and no person working full time should also be forced to live in poverty. Yet in New York state, approximately one million women and men work for less than $7.15 an hour, which means they simply cannot provide adequately for themselves or their families.”
The religious leaders maintained that the vast majority of those earning minimum wage or similar salaries are poor adults, and that nearly half of those earning minimum wage are the primary breadwinners for their families.
“We are also concerned that leaving the minimum wage to ‘market forces’ is not an adequate solution,” the letter stated. “When wages are below the poverty level, the rest of the community actually subsidizes these businesses through our welfare program, as their workers require food stamps and other forms of assistance from our taxpayers.”
In addition to Bishop Clark, the letter to Bruno was signed by Bishop Violet L. Fisher of the New York West Area United Methodist Church; the Rev. Edie Gause, interim executive presbyter of the Presbytery of the Genesee Valley; Bishop Marie C. Jerge of the Upstate Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Rabbi Laurence Kotok, senior rabbi at Rochester’s Temple B’rith Kodesh; Bishop Jack M. McKelvey of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester; the Rev. Richard Myers, president of the Greater Rochester Community of Churches; Aly Nahas, acting imam of the Islamic Center of Rochester; and the Rev. Alan Newton, executive minister of the Genesee Region American Baptist Churches.
The New York State Catholic Conference, public-policy arm of the state’s Catholic bishops, also has expressed its disappointment about Pataki’s veto. The conference believes a higher minimum wage is in the best interest of all New Yorkers, especially those who have the least. Dennis Poust, the conference’s communications director, said July 30 that the conference will continue to advocate for an increase in the state’s minimum wage.