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Race to the Bottom

What looked like a victory for New York’s lower-income workers was derailed by Gov. George Pataki on July 29, when he vetoed a bill—which he had requested the Legislature expedite its vote on—that would have gradually increased the state’s minimum wage to $7.10 per hour by 2007. This year’s serious campaign to raise the minimum wage was waged by the state Assembly and groups like the Working Families Party and labor organizations [“Making Ends Meet,” FYI, March 11]. There is now talk, however, of an override.

Could the overwhelming votes in favor of the bill have been a political maneuver during this, an election year, for Republicans to look good by voting for it and blaming the bill’s failure on the governor’s veto? That remains to be seen, but it’s a charge advocates are levying. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has vowed to try to override the veto, while Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno seems less inclined to do so.

“If the Senate sincerely wants to see the minimum-wage increase, they will override the veto. If they don’t override the veto, that sends a message that they passed the minimum wage to look good politically but they really didn’t intend to raise it,” said Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action of New York and a member of the Working Families Party’s executive committee. “We’re asking every senator who voted for the bill to agree to vote for the override and also to urge Majority Leader Bruno to bring the bill to the floor for an override vote.”

“We’re going to do the budget first and then we’re going to consider again what action to take, if any, regarding the minimum wage,” said Mark Hanson, a spokesman for Sen. Bruno. “No decision has been made whether there’s going to be any override action or not.”

Early on, state Republicans voiced opposition to the bill, favoring a minimum-wage hike at the federal level even though the current administration opposes one. This objection remains one of Pataki’s reasons for the veto, saying an increase would deter businesses from operating in New York. Advocates of the hike, however, point out that many minimum-wage jobs are ones that don’t usually get moved out of state, such as service sector jobs in restaurants, hotels, farms, and retail.

Currently the minimum wage is $5.15 an hour, which for a 40-hour workweek adds up to $206 a week or $10,712 a year. The last time the state raised its minimum wage was when the federal level increased in 1997. There are 12 states where the minimum wage is above the $5.15 federal standard, and of those only Massachusetts and Connecticut had job-creation rates below the national average, with nine others ranking above.

—Ashley Hahn


Weapon of destruction? The paper hook that helped set police off. Photo courtesy of indymedia

Rough Ending

Outside the Democratic Convention last Thursday (July 29), things turned ugly when protesters and police started to scuffle. Convention week to that point had largely been free of violence [“The Un-Conventional Party,” July 29], but demonstrators had suggested that Thursday would be one of massive, decentralized action.

That afternoon, several hundred demonstrators marched from a Bl(A)ck Tea Society rally at Copley Square to Canal Street outside the Fleet Center and the “free-speech zone.”

Some burned a flag and a two-faced John Kerry/George Bush in effigy while chanting, and others acted as pirates, wearing makeshift pirate gear. The police at the scene called in backup who arrived in full riot gear. It was not the effigy, however, that prompted arrests, but possession of a “fake incendiary device,” which turned out to be either a paper pirate’s hook or an empty water bottle.

Several other protesters claim to have ended up on the wrong end of a few nightsticks and were roughed up but not arrested.

Avast Ye! Boston riot police in front of the remains of a Bush/Kerry effigy. Photo courtesy of indymedia

According to a boston.indymedia.org posting by Nick Giannone—one of those arrested who was prominently featured on the front page of the Boston Globe with his face being pushed into pavement by a policeman’s hand—he’s being arraigned on Aug. 6 but is not fully aware of what the charges are against him.

 

 

 

 

—Ashley Hahn
ahahn@metroland.net

 

Signs of the time: some of the omnipresent antiSLC posters in Hudson. Photo by: Miriam Axel-Lute.

Cement Soundbites

A July 28 forum on the much-debated St. Lawrence Cement plant, held at Rhinebeck Town Hall, drew 75 concerned citizens from Columbia and Dutchess Counties and surrounding areas. The proposed two-million-ton-per-year cement plant in Greenport was officially proposed in 1999, and has been the subject of a prolonged battle over permits, air pollution, visual impact, wetlands destruction, and economic development. Daniel Odescalchi represented St. Lawrence Cement at last week’s forum. Sam Pratt, of Friends of Hudson, represented community opposition to the plant. The forum highlighted the arguments, but provided little in the way of common ground.

Daniel Odescalchi: St. Lawrence supports news jobs and little league-teams. Because no water will be drawn from the Hudson River, the plant will probably save “a million fish lives a year.” And by the way, we bought this property in the 1920s.

Sam Pratt: The plant would in actuality create only one net job, and the American Lung Association says that the plant’s emissions would be hazardous to all, especially those with asthma, the young, and the elderly. Every kind of air pollution is going up except sulfur dioxide.

DO: If we build it, it will have to meet standards.

DO: The plant won’t affect scenic views because it will be “tucked” away in an existing quarry.

SP: How they could “tuck” away anything as large as a 400-foot smokestack?

SP: The plant would generate 270 truck round-trips per day.

DO: Most of our figures are “worst-case scenario” figures.

DO: “We’re seeing a lot of companies going overseas—we’re investing in New York state and that’s a damned good thing.”

SP: The plant would be bad for local economy; “it’s a square peg that doesn’t fit into this region’s economic plan.

Q: Would FOH ever support this plant?

SP: In the beginning . . . we proposed moderately scaled plants but we’re long past that. Now were just gonna stop them.”

DO: People “just don’t understand the project.”

For more on the opposing viewpoints, visit www.friendsofhudson.com and www.slcgreenport.com.

—Amelia Koethen


It Seems Mr. Clyne Does Not Want to Answer the Question
Photo by: John Whipple

Friday (July 30), the David Soares campaign for Albany County District Attorney staged what it promised will be the first in a series of debates between Soares and a “cardboard Paul Clyne” (really a cardboard George W. Bush from Party Warehouse with a computer printout of current District Attorney Paul Clyne’s face pasted on). The brief exercise (Clyne didn’t answer, Soares gave the main soundbites of his campaign) was intended to dramatize Clyne’s refusal to debate Soares. Rick Canfield, Soares’ campaign manager, said Clyne told the campaign that Soares “wasn’t entitled” to a debate. This Tuesday, Soares released a plan to fight violent crime, which he says has risen 36 percent under Clyne, by focusing prosecutions on drug kingpins and “predatory criminals” while using community prosecution, diversion programs like the community accountability board, and after-school, job-training and education programs to keep first-time nonviolent offenders from becoming “hardened criminals.”

Shine a Light Against Crime
Photo by: Shannon DeCelle

Schenectady residents gathered in Central Park for a rally and flashlight walk against crime on Tuesday (Aug. 3) as part of National Night Out against crime, an annual event sponsored by National Town Watch in which residents turn their porch lights on between 7 and 10 PM as a symbolic anticrime gesture. There were National Night Out events in dozens of cities and towns across the state.


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