Tompkins County in the Forefront of the Push for Raising the Minimum Wage to a Living Wage

Here’s why a Living Wage is so important for Tompkins County families. Did you know that one third of of the students in the Ithaca City School District qualify for the federal free school lunch program? That’s means their caregivers do not earn a Living Wage.  More exactly that’s less than $21,000/year for a 2-person family; $26,000/year for a 3-person family; $31,000 for a 4-person family.  In some other Tompkins County school districts, the situation is much worse: In Dryden almost half the students qualify for free or reduced price lunch.  In Freeville it’s over half the students whose family income is so low they qualify.

Got Living Wage? Human Services and Medicaid-Funded Workers Need One

It is incredibly important that human services and Medicaid-funded workers, as well as the larger community, speak out now in support of increasing the State Minimum Wage to $15 AND ensuring that the State provide the added funding and reimbursements to make this happen.

Please speak out on this issue by texting 877877 now (put FIGHTFOR15 in the body of the text). You will be prompted to enter your address and you then will be connected to your NY State Senate representative’s office.

You can also call directly. Call your state senator (see list below for which senators represent which towns in Tompkins County) and ask for his support!

Tompkins County State Senators are:

  • Tom O’Mara (City of Ithaca, towns of Enfield, Ithaca, Newfield, Ulysses) – 518-455-2091;
  • James Seward (Towns of Caroline, Danby, Dryden, Groton) – 518-455-3131;

If you live OUTSIDE of Tompkins County and are unsure of who your State Senator is, go to

Please also call NYS Assemblyperson Barbara Lifton at 607-277-8030 (who represents all of Tompkins County and parts of Cortland) and thank her for supporting the $15/hr proposal and ask her to support increased funding for state contracts. If you live outside of Lifton’s district, go to to find out who your Assemblyperson is.

Why is this so important? Because over 200,000 human services and Medicaid-funded workers across the state are paid less than $15/hour or 57% of the total workforce! In fact over one-third of the workforce earns less than $11.50! Despite being a highly skilled workforce (two-thirds of you have some college education and close to half hold a bachelor’s degrees or higher) the human services sector has one of the highest prevalence of low-wages in the private sector, behind food service and retail. This means that you are often eligible for the same public benefits as your clients. You give and give because you love this important work, but in the end you don’t get enough back for yourself and your family.
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League of Women Voters Forum on Living Wages: Monday, 2/22

“The New York State League of Women Voters supports a Living Wage, based on the League’s national position about meeting basic human needs. A Living Wage should provide sufficient income without government assistance, for food, clothing, housing, energy, transportation, health care, education, child care and a small amount of discretionary income.”  LWV

To help in understanding of this issue in our community, the Tompkins County League of Women Voters is presenting a program, open to the public, at 7:00 PM on Monday, February 22 at the Tompkins County Public Library. A panel of three will describe various aspects of a “Living Wage” here in Tompkins County and how it can be implemented.

The speakers are:

  • Karl Graham: Alternatives Federal Credit Union, Director of Community Relations and Development. He will describe how the living wage for Tompkins County is calculated and the Alternatives experience;
  • Sue Dale Hall: Director, Child Development Council, a Certified Living Wage Employer. She will describe her agency’s implementation of a Living Wage and problems and challenges.

Town of Caroline Endorses Push for a Countywide Living Wage

(CAROLINE, NY) The Caroline Town Board , by a 4-1 vote, has called on the Tompkins County Legislature to move toward establishing the Living Wage as the Minimum Wage for all employees working within the county borders.  The vote took place at the Caroline Town Board meeting on Wednesday evening, February 10th.

Caroline is the third local government body to heed the call of the Tompkins County Workers’ Center (TCWC) which has been organizing to mandate the county’s Living Wage of $14.34 as the new Minimum Wage. Both the Town and the City of Ithaca previously also voted (in both cases, unanimously) to also endorse a County Living Wage.

1st Place Poster Winner: Jason Kinsey in Tompkins County Human Rights Commission Poster Contest: What Would MLK Say About a Living Wage in Tompkins County?

1st Place Poster Winner: Jason Kinsey in Tompkins County Human Rights Commission Poster Contest: What Would MLK Say About a Living Wage in Tompkins County?

“With over one-third of the children at Caroline Elementary School in families with incomes so low that they qualify for the free lunch program,” said Pete Meyers, TCWC Coordinator, “it is clear that the lack of a Living Wage impacts deeply on the population of the Town.”

Town Board member Irene Weiser added: “Because the cost of living varies from community to community, municipalities should be allowed to set a living minimum wage for their residents.  I urge Tompkins County to play a leadership role in pointing New York in this important new direction.”

See Text of the Resolution below:

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Anna G. and Thousands Like Her Need a Living Wage: Sign the Petition!

Sign the Petition: I Support Raising the Minimum Wage to a Living Wage in Tompkins County!

Take Action“For the past two years, I have worked 40 hours a week as a Direct Support Professional with developmentally disabled adults in Tompkins County. I make $11.06/hour. The biggest problem I face is being constantly in debt. I have 2 daughters and we live paycheck to paycheck. We never know if we’ll have enough to make all the bills. I eat once a day and depend on Public Assistance (Medicaid). We pay $600/month rent for a small two bedroom house on the edges of the Tompkins County; but our landlord is a slumlord. Paid $2000 for kerosene last winter and now have to get ready to purchase it for the upcoming winter season. I feel depressed about the wages-can’t even take in a movie with my kids, let alone help them through college.” (Anna G. who came to the Workers’ Center about our campaign)

Tompkins County worker, Caleb Thomas. (Photo: Joan Lockwood)

Tompkins County worker, Caleb Haines. (Photo: Joan Lockwood)

The Living Wage in Tompkins County is $14.34/hour. We believe the cost of doing business in Tompkins County MUST INCLUDE the dignity and worth of each human being that is PERFORMING that work. Our campaign is linked to and part of the statewide and national Fight for $15 movement.

If you’re wondering how YOU can support this groundbreaking campaign, here’s how you can help:

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The Living Wage WORKS for Tompkins County Small Businesses: Sweet Land Farm CSA

Evangeline Sarat brings a powerful passion to operating her CSA, Sweet Land Farm in Trumansburg, NY. Being a Living Wage Employer is all part of her commitment to a truly healthy, sustainable community.

I had no choice but to be a Living Wage Employer. I have a passion for farming, a vision of what life is. Being a farmer can be an all-consuming life. The employees allow me time to also have a life with my children, ages 7 and 12. They are helping me grow vibrant, healthy food in a healthy farming system. It only makes sense to me that they are supported. How could I not create opportunities for them to support themselves?”

Evangeline Sarat, Owner of Sweet Land Farm CSA in Trumansburg, NY. (Photo: Joan Lockwood)

Her employees share her vision.

“Not only does Sweet Land grow amazing produce and work to make their products financially accessible, by paying a Living Wage, Sweet Land is a sustainable job creator. How many companies work to accomplish these three things? Being a member of Sweet Land Farm is more than just a share, it is an opportunity to have access to nutritious food while also supporting others in the community through having Living Wage employment and supporting a local food system that makes healthy food accessible to so many more. ” Sasha Salayda

Sweet Land is located 9732 State Road 96, Trumansburg, and can be contacted at 607.793.1566 or

A Great Success! Fight for $15 Living Wage Vigil – Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2016

(ITHACA) The Tompkins County Workers’ Center (TCWC) mounted simultaneous Fight for $15 Living Wage Vigils at fifteen (15) fast food restaurants throughout Tompkins County on MLK Day. About 75 living wage supporters and activists braved extremely cold weather to conduct the one hour vigils (3:30-4:30 at each location).

The TCWC Minimum Wage as Living Wage Organizing Committee in front of Starbucks in Ithaca.

The TCWC Minimum Wage as Living Wage Organizing Committee in front of Starbucks in Ithaca.

Four of the vigils were organized in collaboration with TCWC by supportive community organizations with participants exclusively from those organizations, including the Ithaca College Adjunct Professors Union and the Midstate Central Labor Council (McDonalds/Elmira Rd.), Ithaca Catholic Worker (Dunkin Donuts/Elmira Rd.), Labor-Religion Coalition (Five Guys/Taco Bell), Ithaca DSA (Chipotle), and the Ithaca Teachers Assn (Domino’s-Gateway Plaza). A complete list of the locations is at the bottom.

At all of the locations team leaders first went into the restaurants to inform manager/workers of the action and also to ensure that all were being paid the newly mandated fast food minimum wage of $9.75. Information sheets were also provided. The response from managers/workers was uniformly positive (except Dunkin Donuts in Dryden). In some cases important conversations ensued.   Workers indicated that even at the new minimum wage or even higher wages earned by some managers ($12/hour for example in one case) it was not a living wage or enough to support a family. At all locations there were many honks and supportive indications from passing motorists. Lots of traffic at all sites.

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Fast Food and Tipped Workers in NY Get Big Raises

(ITHACA) Fast food workers in New York State will reap the first benefits of their Fight for $15 activism on January 1st as the minimum wage in the industry rises to $9.75/hour ($10.50 in NY City). This is a $1 or 11 percent increase over 2015. Over 180,000 working families will see this increase in their 1st paychecks of the year. And they will continue to see annual increases as the minimum wage rises in steps to $15 in 2021 (2018 in NY City).

“This is an important step forward that will make a big difference in these workers’ lives and in the lives of their families” stated Pete Meyers, Coordinator of the Tompkins County Workers’ Center, “and it shows how important it is for us in Tompkins County to step up our community campaign to make the Living Wage a Minimum Wage for all workers.”

Other wage increases to take effect at midnight in the State include a rise of the minimum wage for all other workers to $9 (from $8.75); an increase of the tipped minimum wage to $7.50 (from $5.00); and an increase in the minimum salary for exempt employees to $675/week.

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The Living Wage WORKS for Tompkins County Small Businesses: Autumn Leaves Used Books

Joe Wetmore, Owner of Autumn Leaves Used Books in Ithaca, on being a Certified Living Wage Employer

Building a better business –

“Having a community standard to operate by – which the Alternatives Federal Credit Union provides in its living wage calculation – helped me establish a wage base for my store. It’s contributed to employee retention. The most recent hire for Autumn Leaves has been there six years.”

And a better community

“When businesses don’t pay a living wage, many employees have to depend on tax-supported services, friends, family – and sacrifices to their own health and wellbeing. Those employers don’t build a society I want to live in.”

Joe Wetmore, Owner of Autumn Leaves Used Books outside the store on The Commons in Ithaca

Joe Wetmore, Owner of Autumn Leaves Used Books outside the store on The Commons in Ithaca

What Would MLK Say About a Living Wage Poster Contest: Winners

(ITHACA) The Tompkins County Office of Human Rights (OHR) and the Tompkins County Workers’ Center announced the winners of its second annual “What Would MLK Say Today?” Poster Contest, at the Greater Ithaca Activities Center’s annual MLK Day Breakfast. The contest was designed to provide opportunities for Tompkins County artists to imagine and express how MLK’s timeless strategies can address today’s challenges. This year, the OHR partnered with the Tompkins County Workers’ Center in order to promote a special contest theme which poses the question, “What would MLK say today about the Living Wage in Tompkins County?”

MLK Poster

First prize winner of the adult section of the poster contest is Jason Kinsey of Ithaca with this EXCELLENT ‘answer’ to the question: What would MLK Say About the Living Wage in Tompkins County?

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