Mon, 26 Jul 2010

Nassau lawmakers keep health care workers' raise - Newsday

Nassau lawmakers keep health care workers' raise
Originally published: July 26, 2010 10:48 PM
Updated: July 26, 2010 11:19 PM

Photo credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz | Home health care worker Leslie Vasquez, of Valley Stream, will receive a dollar-an-hour increase in her hourly wage. (July 26, 2010)

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Nassau lawmakers kept a planned $1-an-hour raise for home health care workers on track Monday, saying they had not seen proof that the increase would hurt business and workers.

Earlier this month, Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa), introduced a bill to delay the hike for at least six months. At the time, he said the home health care industry said it could not afford the increase.

But Monday, Schmitt told providers at a three-hour hearing, "The premise that was put on the table to us, if this was to go into effect, [was] you would suffer irreparable damage and you would lay off workers. Despite repeated opportunities to make your case, you have not."

The legislature later rejected the bill unanimously.

The opposition was led by Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead), who, even before hearing from business owners and nonprofit leaders, said he had seen no credible evidence that the pay raise would hurt employers.

"There are waivers built into the law that employers can get if they show that the pay increase is a hardship for them," he said. "So there is no reason to stop the raise."

Home health care worker Evyene Dumay, 47, of Westbury credited divine intervention for the legislature's support of the pay raise.

"It's not too much, but it's better than nothing," said Dumay. "Thank you, God, for saying yes to the raise. And thank you for the legislators too . . . I'm so happy because everybody needs money."

After lawmakers voted, home health care worker Leslie Vasquez, 45, of Valley Stream, said: "This will help a lot. Every little bit helps."

Abrahams, who questioned speakers at length, became so irate at Schmitt's efforts to move the process along by cutting him off that he said the presiding officer was running the meeting "like a Nazi camp."

He immediately apologized, but still said, "You are dictating to us when we can ask questions."

Schmitt called for a readback on the comment, then told Abrahams what he said "was way out of bounds."

The $1-an-hour increase is the fourth and final step in wage hikes mandated in December 2006 by the legislature under the Living Wage Bill, which applies to companies that provide services to the county. The increase, effective Aug. 1, raises salaries to $12.50 from $11.50. Going forward, increases would be based on the consumer price index.

"These people are making wages that are underneath the poverty line," Legis. Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said. "To take away their dollar would require a very high standard of proof. I don't believe the industry met that proof."

Erica Chase, speaking for the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, said her members support the Living Wage Bill, but feared it could have devastating effects on many nonprofit agencies. "We would like this [raise] put off until Jan. 1 while we try to figure out how to deal with this," she said, adding that maybe the economy will turn around.

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