Earlier this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo convened a Wage Board that raised the minimum wage for fast food workers to $15 an hour. While this is a historic first step toward addressing income inequality in New York state, there is still more that needs to be done.

A top priority for the RWDSU this upcoming legislative session in Albany is to push for government action to raise the minimum wage for ALL workers in the state. Recently, Cuomo announced a new campaign to increase the minimum wage to $15 for all workers. This is a powerful move to help working people. We must support and expand efforts to ensure that retail workers, car wash workers, food service workers, and many in other industries receive higher pay. For these New Yorkers, it is a struggle just to survive.

In retail, the average retail salesperson in New York state earns less than $27,000 a year, while a cashier makes closer to $20,000 annually. We don’t need to do the math to understand that that is a paycheckto- paycheck existence, barely enough for an individual worker to survive on in New York City or upstate New York. Yet many of these workers are the sole providers for their families.

New York has an opportunity to lead the nation by being the first state to ensure that all people who work full time have an opportunity to rise out of a vicious cycle of poverty. Our current economic model is broken and it must change. When the legislative session begins in January, labor will join the governor, Assembly and Democrats in the Senate in calling for a $15 minimum wage. Working people should be able to earn enough in our state to live in dignity.

While increasing the minimum wage is important, the best solution to income inequality and other workplace issues is still a union contract. Working people have concerns that go beyond wage rates – from scheduling to health and safety to protection against discrimination – which are best dealt with by the protections a union provides. What we need are government policies that encourage and protect collective bargaining, so that workers will have a voice on the job as well as dignity and respect.

Stuart Appelbaum is President, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union