Tompkins County Workers’ Center Certifies Five New Employers as Living Wage Bringing Total Up to 90

The Tompkins County Workers’ Center is pleased to announce that we now have certified 90 employers as being Living Wage Employers, having just recently added the latest five such employers:

• Sunny Days of Ithaca, 123 S. Cayuga Street, Ithaca;
• Court Street Chiropractic of Ithaca, 122 W.Court Street, Ithaca;
• St. Paul’s United Methodist Church and St. Paul’s Nursery School, 402 N. Aurora Street, Ithaca;
• Trumansburg Community Nursery School, P.O. Box 18, Trumansburg; and,
• Weaver Wind Energy, 233 Cherry Street, Ithaca.

Sunny Days; Court St. Chiropractic; St. Paul’s Church; Trumansburg Community Nursery School, and Weaver Wind Energy employ a total of 25 workers; this brings the total of workers, countywide and regionally, who are working for Living Wage Employers up to over 2,930 people.

The Workers’ Center initiated the Living Wage Employer Certification Program in 2006 to publicly recognize and reward those employers who pay a living wage. Any employer in the private, public, and non-profit sectors is eligible to apply. With your help, we can provide incentives for other employers in our community! Please go to to find out which employers are Living Wage-Certified, as well as to download criteria and an application form.

It’s Official! Tompkins Recycling Workers to Be Paid a Living Wage!

Since 2003, when the-then Tompkins County Living Wage Coalition (now the Tompkins County Workers’ Center/TCWC) worked with the Tompkins County Legislature to pass a Living Wage Resolution, the following things have happened:

  • in 2006, the County became one of our first Certified Living Wage Employers (the TCWC was the first organization nationally to start a Living Wage Employer Certification program). The County was by far our largest Certified Employer at the time (and continues to this day) with over 750 employees;
  • in October 2012, Milton Webb and Stanley McPherson, both workers at the-then ReCommunity Recycling (now operated by Casella Waste Systems) approached the TCWC wondering why, if they were working doing the business of the County, that they weren’t being paid a Living Wage (at the time, they were making $8.00/hour). We at the TCWC explained to them that we could mount a campaign to ensure that all County-contracted workers would be paid a Living Wage, but that we would need them as workers to truly make such a campaign a success;
  • Milton and Stanley agreed to this campaign and we jointly lobbied the County Legislature in 2013. Milton and Stanley were on a mission, which included their setting up a Cable Access show dedicated to the cause. County Administrator, Joe Mareane, did a masterful job creating a Living Wage Working Group that the TCWC had a seat at and that met at least 10 times.
  • In November of 2013, County Legislators Carol Chock and Nate Shinagawa proposed a Living Wage Contingency Fund of $100,000 to help those County Contractors who were not already paying a Living Wage to do so. The fund was approved by the full Legislature in December of 2013.

Today, we at the TCWC are happy to be able to tell you that this work has paid off as the County Legislature has just voted has just voted unamimously, 14-0,to approve a $20,000 disbursal from the County’s Living Wage Contingency Fund to Casella. The Living Wage will go into effect on February 1, 2015 for all those workers not presently making a Living Wage at Casella!!

This victory that ensures that all workers at a County-contracted agency, Casella, will be paid a Living Wage. This is on top of the other County-contracting agencies (Suicide Prevention and Crisis Services; Foodnet’s Meals on Wheels; and Tompkins Learning Partners) who are now able to pay all of their workers a Living Wage.

An especial thanks from the TCWC goes out to County Adminstrator, Joe Mareane; County Solid Waste Head, Barb Eckstrom; County Attorney, Jonathan Wood, and all the County Legislators who helped to make this happen. A thanks also goes out to Casella, who with six years still remaining on their contract with the County didn’t have to make this commitment at this point. It is an especially good example of teamwork and commitment from all the parties involved to speak truth to power.

In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr: “A final victory is an accumulation of many short-term encounters. To lightly dismiss a success because it does not usher in a complete order of justice is to fail to comprehend the process of achieving full victory. It underestimates the value of confrontation and dissolves the confidence born of a partial victory by which new efforts are powered.”–Martin Luther King, Jr., from ‘Where Do We Go From Here?: Chaos or Community.

New York State Minimum Wage Increases from $8.00/Hour to $8.75/Hour on 12/31/14

On December 31, 2014, the New York State minimum wage will increase from $8.00/hour to $8.75/hour. The minimum wage will then increase again on 12/31/15 to $9.00/hour in New York. Click on this link to go to the NYS Department of Labor website.

The Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI) estimates that 7.3% of the Tompkins County population (or 3,800 people) will be directly affected by this increase. On a statewide level, the FPI estimates that 10.1% of the population (or 880,00o) will be directly affected by the increase.

If you are a worker who doesn’t see your wage increase on December 31, 2014, please contact the Tompkins County Workers’ Center Workers Rights Hotline at 607-269-0409 and we will help you to rectify the situation!

Huge Living Wage Victory for Tompkins County Recycling Workers!!

(Ithaca) A year and a half ago, Milton Webb and Stanley McPherson, two workers with ReCommunity Recycling (which was taken over by Casella Waste Systems in early 2014), a subcontractor with the Tompkins County Solid Waste Division, approached the Tompkins County Workers’ Center (TCWC) wondering why they weren’t making a Living Wage, considering the fact that they were doing the business of the County, which is a Certified Living Wage Employer. After a joint campaign that was made possible by the teamwork of an absolute variety of players, today we celebrate a huge victory in the step to ensure that all Tompkins County ‘contracted workers’ are paid a Living Wage.

The details of the victory include an allocation from the Tompkins County Legislature’s Living Wage Contingency Fund of $20,000, as well as a commitment to pay a Living Wage coming from Casella Waste Systems. Casella estimates that it will cost an additional $105,000/year to increase all their workers to a Living Wage. The agreement will enable workers at the County’s Recycling and Solid Waste Center to all be paid a Living Wage (presently $12.62/hour or $13.94 without health insurance) beginning in early February 2015. The allocation, just approved at today’s Facilities and Infrastructure Committee by a unanimous 5-0 vote, will now go to a full Legislature vote on Tuesday, January 6th.

This successful campaign is a great example of the ‘concerted action’ of two workers in the workplace acting in solidarity with each other, and in coordination with a community campaign as organized by the TCWC alongside many supportive County Legislative members. As Casella worker, Milton Webb says: “This was a team effort with the Workers’ Center and the Legislature. From the bottom of our hearts, Stanley and I want to say thank you. (Listen to audio:

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Commit to a Living Wage & Workers Rights for All by Supporting the Tompkins Workers’ Center!!

As the Tompkins County Workers’ Center (TCWC) enters into its 13th year, we celebrate our victories, and yet realize just how far we have to go in order to fulfill our Vision: a Living Wage and workers’ rights for all. We could have accomplished none of this without you, our loyal supporters. Please consider supporting our efforts today by clicking on the Donate button below. (If you become a Monthly Sustainer, we have 2 Matching Grants that will match what you are able to give over a year’s time!)


A smattering of our victories include:

We could have done absolutely none of this without you, our loyal supporters in Tompkins County and beyond. We raise an unusually high amount of our funds from our local grassroots supporters such as you, up to 40% in this past year alone!! 

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Over 100 People Brave Cold on Black Friday in Ithaca to Demand Wal-Mart Take Lead in $15/Hour and Full Time Work

(Ithaca) Over 100 people gathered for two hours in sub-freezing conditions this past Friday on Black Friday in Ithaca, outside of the Ithaca Wal-Mart, to call Wal-Mart to task over it’s low wages and lack of full time work for those workers who want to work full time. Recognizing that Wal-Mart is not the only big-box store to engage in egregious labor practices, the organizers of the rally which included the Tompkins County Workers’ Center, the Central New York Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO;  the Labor-Religion Coalition of the Finger Lakes; and the Midstate Central Labor Council, focus on Wal-Mart because of its leadership our nation’s retail industries.

Citizens concerned with the downward spiral taken by global corporations to dismantle our economy stand in front of the Ithaca Wal-Mart on Black Friday to bring attention to Wal-Mart's egregious actions. (Photo: Paul Gottleib)

Citizens concerned with the downward spiral taken by global corporations to dismantle our economy stand in front of the Ithaca Wal-Mart on Black Friday to bring attention to Wal-Mart’s egregious actions. (Photo: Paul Gottleib)

At the end of the two hour protest, one of over 2200 such protests nationally, fifteen or so of the protestors (including two elected officials, Cynthia Brock, 1st Ward Councilperson for the City of Ithaca and Town of Caroline Board Member, John Fraccia) delivered a letter on behalf of all those outside, and in the community, stating our demands. The text of the letter can be found below.

Talking briefly with Wal-Mart Store Manager, Floyd Bump, about the letter delivered on behalf of a community that wants economic justice for all its citizens. (Photo: Paul Gottleib)

Talking briefly with Wal-Mart Store Manager, Floyd Bump, about the letter delivered on behalf of a community that wants economic justice for all its citizens. (Photo: Paul Gottleib)











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Overtime Pay May Be Required for Salaried Employees Considered Exempt

The recent labor law violations uncovered at Ithaca Trader K’s ( highlight the importance of understanding the difference between exempt and non-exempt employees with respect to overtime payments. Many people classified as managers or administrators, and paid on a salaried basis, are not exempt from the requirement to also receive overtime pay (for working over 40 hours in a week).

The Tompkins County Workers’ Center has a factsheet from the NYS Department of Labor that we would be happy to send anyone (contact us at or 269-0409) but the key point is that an employee covered by NYS labor law must meet certain criteria to qualify for the administrative/managerial employee exemption. Perhaps the most important of these criteria is that the employee must be paid not less than $600/week ($31,200/year). If paid less than $600/week ($656.25 as of January 1, 2015) such an employee would be entitled to overtime (time and a half) for all hours worked over 40.

The other main criterion is that you must actually be performing the duties of an exempt employee. If your duties are not those of a bona fide exempt employee your employer cannot evade the overtime requirement by paying you a salary (and not paying overtime) regardless of how much your salary is. Those duties are also described in the factsheet referenced above and available upon request.

Trader K’s Clothing Store in Ithaca Found to Violate NYS Wage Law

(Ithaca) A New York State Department of Labor (DOL) investigation of employee complaints of wage underpayment between 2011 and 2013 at Trader K’s in Ithaca has concluded that the business is guilty.

Trader K’s failed to pay overtime properly to nine employees and was assessed over $7,500 in damages and underpayments to the employees. The failure to pay overtime affected both store clerks and managers at the store. While managers are typically exempted from overtime payments, if they do not earn over $455/week or if they have been, in effect, misclassified (their job duties do not meet certain DOL-mandated tests for being a manager) then overtime pay is required.

The DOL complaint was filed in 2013 by the Tompkins County Workers’ Center (TCWC) after an employee contacted TCWC’s Workers’ Rights Hotline. “Wage theft is rampant in NY State and around the country,” said Pete Meyers, TCWC Coordinator. “Here in Tompkins County, we/TCWC have filed complaints and won back wages for hundreds of workers over the years [winning judgments of over $1.3 million in successful ‘wage theft’ claims]. We encourage workers to contact us whenever they have questions or feel their employer is cheating them out of their wages.”

The TCWC Workers’ Rights Hotline can be reached at 607-269-0409 or or via Facebook.

ACTION ALERT: Adjunct Professors @ TC3 Need Your Help ASAP!!

There is a sprouting and thriving movement by Adjunct Professors at colleges and universities around the country to call attention to their plight (see our recent cover story article in our most recent newsletter). In Tompkins and Cortland counties, we have no shortage of Adjunct Professors who are beginning to organize to improve their contingent working conditions.

We are coming to you now in hopes that you can take an action (by clicking on this link) by Wednesday, November 5th, on behalf of the Adjunct Professors union, known as the TC3 Adjunct Association, that has taken root at Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3) in Dryden, NY. (We say the 5th of November because the 6th is when the TC3 Board meets for its Annual Retreat.) A strong majority of Adjuncts at TC3 have already signed authorization cards indicating their desire for unionization. (The TC3 Adjunct Association is affiliated with NYSUT, NEA, AFT, AFL-CIO as the exclusive bargaining agent for TC3’s 200+ adjuncts.)

Take Action

On October 22, 2014, the union filed these authorization forms with the Public Employees Relations Board (PERB). The TC3 Administration and Board has one month to respond and indicate it’s willingness to ‘voluntarily recognize’ the TC3 union, or else drag the already-strong majority will of the Adjuncts to be organized into a union into a legal battle that will cost taxpayers more money!

We are asking that if you live in Cortland or Tompkins County and you agree that workers should have the right to join together in representing their own interests in the form of a union, that you click here to send an email message to the TC3 Board as well as the TC3 President, Carl Haynes, indicating that you don’t want taxpayer dollars–your taxpayer dollars!–wasted on a legal battle by the College to fight the union efforts by the Adjuncts! The TC3 Board needs to know that the Tompkins and Cortland communities are supportive of the TC3 Adjunct Association’s efforts!

Additionally, we plan to show up, en masse, to the TC3 next scheduled Board Meeting on Thursday, November 20th, at 5:30 p.m., along with some members of the Adjuncts Organizing Committee to show our support for their unionizing efforts. If you think you can make this, please email or call 607-269-0409.

Amazing Story from How a Union (UAW Local 2300) Started at Cornell University

Editor’s Note: The following interview of Sue Heisey Compton, a founder back in the early 1980s of a union at Cornell University that represents over 1,100 building maintenance and service workers. The interview was conducted by Joan Lockwood, staff person with Local 2300, several months ago. Compton unfortunately passed away this past October 17th, 2014. However, we are incredibly blessed with this glimpse, from Sue’s perspective, into the inspirational history of why a union made so much sense to this union sister!

Did you know, for instance, that now no one working at Cornell and represented by the UAW makes less than $14.51/hour? Be it food service, the Statler, or grounds crews: what people might expect to make in the larger community of not much more than a minimum wage, at Cornell because of the union, is dramatically more!

Meet a Member: Sue Heisey Compton

Sue holds the honor of being the first woman from Grounds to step up and support the effort to bring a union to Cornell in the early 1980s. Her name is listed on the Charter of UAW Local 2300.

What was the moment when you knew you had to get involved? What convinced you, personally and professionally? What did you do?

I was not at Cornell for very long when I heard the grounds workers talking about getting a union to represent them mostly for reasons of retirement, sick leave policies and respect than anything else. I was so new and as the first ever female Groundsman I was trying to get the men to trust that I could and would do the same jobs that they were asked to do. I didn’t want to be treated like anything other than a fellow worker. I knew that I could do any of the work that the smaller men could do.

They had contacted the Meat Cutters Union and had a hearing already scheduled at the NLRB. I signed the card and actually testified at the hearing while I was still a probationary employee. They asked me on the stand if I was a permanent employee and I said I hadn’t been told yet either way. My boss at that time, Ed Kabelac, the Superintendent of Grounds, was asked and he said that yes, Sue Heisey, was now a permanent employee.

I had tried to get work for the 3 years previous and all I wanted was to have a chance to prove I could do the work. I had worked on a farm; I bought and sold produce; I mowed lawns; I cut, split and delivered firewood and I tended bar at Tweitmann’s Halfway House. And I applied for so many other jobs.
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