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Rochester anti-poverty agency reports progress in campaign to get employers to raise wages

Posted on Sunday, 06 February 2022

You can read the original story from WXXI here


A local anti-poverty agency says that initial efforts to increase wages for thousands of Rochester area residents have surpassed expectations.

The goal was set by RMAPI, the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative last year. In February of 2021, RMAPI established a goal to increase wages to at least $15/hr for 10,000 Rochesterians.

According to Aqua Porter, who is the executive director of RMAPI, 11,266 workers across the community moved to at least $15/hr last year, with more expected to get to that level within the coming year.

Porter says the current tight job market has also led various companies and organizations to raise wages, but RMAPI would like to see the wage boost become part of an overall company protocol.

“So, what we’re looking for is actual policy changes by these employers that are saying their policy is that their wages are 15 dollars an hour or higher, versus, reacting to kind of ‘this is how we have to recruit,’and get people to take these jobs at this point,” Porter says.

The program RMAPI started last year refers to the employers who took part as ‘Level Up Champions,’ and Porter says a total of 73 organizations made the commitment last year to the $15/hr minimum wage. Porter says wage increases are an important step in addressing persistent poverty as well as structural racism.

“The wage disparities that persist today are just one piece of evidence of the structural racism rooted deeply across our community,” said Jerome Underwood, RMAPI Steering Committee co-chair. “The 2017 Wage Disparities report from the City of Rochester and RMAPI laid this out clearly, showing that Black and Brown people earn less than their white counterparts in nearly every industry sector and across all levels of education."

RMAPI has also announced its policy agenda for this year, and among the priorities is pushing for more equitable decisions on how COVID relief funding is spent and how governments make decisions about that funding.

Porter says the pandemic has exacerbated existing disparities.

“So those are our communities where there’s concentrations of poverty, those are in our Black and brown communities,” Porter says. “We know that the resources have traditionally and historically not been invested in those areas, when there have been opportunities for big federal government funding projects.”

Porter says she is hoping to see federal relief funds allocated to place that help people who have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.