Quick-service restaurant chains in New York State will start paying a minimum wage of $15 an hour as soon as 2018, after the state labor commissioner accepted recommendations from a fast-food wage board, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday.
Speaking at a rally with labor activists in New York City alongside Vice President Joe Biden, Cuomo also proposed a $15 minimum statewide wage for all industries, which will have to get past the state’s legislature. Cuomo said the decision would affect 150,000 workers in the state.
“It’s simple math,” Cuomo said. “You cannot support a family on $18,000 a year in New York State, not to mention having a decent living.”
The "fast-food" minimum wage increase, recommended by a three-member panel in July, would bump wages for workers at quick-service chains with at least 30 employees to $15 in New York City by 2018. Everywhere else in the state, the quick-service minimum wage will increase to $15 by 2021.
The broader all-industry minimum wage proposal Cuomo announced Thursday would affect all industries, and would reportedly follow a similar pattern. It would give New York the highest statewide minimum wage in the country.
“Every man and woman in the state of New York deserves $15 as a minimum wage,” Cuomo said. “We’re not going to stop until we get it done.”
Passage of the broader proposal would be difficult, however, given that Republicans control the New York State Senate, and had previously turned back Cuomo’s proposal for a $10.50 hourly minimum wage.
Still, the push to increase the minimum wage for quick-service restaurants and other industries provides further momentum to a three-year effort by activists to increase workers' wages.
Activists targeting quick-service restaurants in particular have staged rallies and strikes to push for a $15 minimum wage. That effort has continued to gain traction, as cities like Seattle, Los Angeles and St. Louis have approved $15 minimum wages. Several states have increased minimum wages more modestly, and several national restaurant chains have indicated that higher wages are impacting their overall labor costs.
But New York is unique in that it started by pushing for an increase in the minimum wage only at quick-service restaurants. Restaurants have charged the governor with circumventing state law in the process.
“Governor Cuomo first targeted the restaurant industry by circumventing the law through a self-appointed wage board without any representation from the industry,” Save NYC Restaurants, a coalition of restaurant and business owners in the state, said in a statement. “The hardworking men and women that own and operate New York’s restaurants were silenced by advocates and remained voiceless through this entire process.”
The group said that more than 94 percent of New York’s quick-service workers are employees of small businesses, either independent or franchisee owned.
“The decision to dramatically raise the minimum wage at such a rapid rate will only inhibit restaurateurs and the entire business community’s ability to provide opportunities and pathways to success,” the group said.
Still, backers of a wage increase say that 70 percent of quick-service workers are adults over 20 years old, and in New York nearly 60 percent of quick-service employees are part of families enrolled in at least one public assistance program.
Kevin Ryan, founder of the online retailer Gilt and one of the three members of the wage board that recommended the increase, said the increase in the minimum wage would save taxpayer dollars over time. He also argued that it would be good for the businesses, with a more productive workforce and less turnover.
“We determined it is an important and necessary thing for businesses as well,” Ryan said. “We need businesses to succeed. If we don’t have successful businesses, we don’t have jobs. We wanted to balance those things, but to have a workforce that is fairly paid, support families.”
The increase in the minimum at quick-service restaurants in New York City would rise to $10.50 an hour by the end of this year; $12 an hour by Dec. 31, 2016; $13.50 by Dec. 31, 2017; and $15 by Dec. 31, 2018.
Elsewhere in the state, pay would increase more gradually, starting at $9.75 an hour by the end of this year, and ultimately rising to $15 by 2021.
Vice President Biden, who is reportedly considering a run for president, called it a “smart, reasonable plan,” and said raising wages “is good for business.”
“Without flourishing businesses, we have a real problem,” Biden said, noting that neither he nor President Barack Obama “is going to recommend something that depresses businesses. That hurts everybody.”
Contact Jonathan Maze at [email protected]
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