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Wage Board Recommends $15 Minimum For Fast Food Workers

New York Wage Board

A state Wage Board has voted to phase-in an increase in the minimum wage for fast food workers to $15 an hour, making New York the first state in the nation to increase the wage for a single segment of the work force.

The wage board appointed by Governor Cuomo voted unanimously to phase in a major  increase in the minimum wage for fast food workers  over the next few years.

“That provides for $15 an hour statewide by 2018 in New York City,” said Board chair and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, to cheers from the crowd.

The $15 an hour for New York City will actually take effect on December 31 of 2018, so workers will not feel the effects of the full phase-in until 2019.

The minimum wage for fast food workers in the rest of the state will rise to $15 in July of 2021.

According to the motion passed by the board, in New York City, the minimum wage would be increased to $10.50 on December 31, 2015, $12.00 on December 31, 2016, $13.50 on December 31, 2017, and $15.00 on December 31, 2018.  For the rest of the state, the minimum wage would be increased to $9.75 on December 31, 2015, $10.75 on December 31, 2016, $11.75 on December 31, 2017, $12.75 on December 31, 2018, $13.75 on December 31, 2019, $14.50 on December 31, 2020, and $15.00 on July 1, 2021.

Board members say the long phase-in takes into account concerns expressed by the industry. The new rules will apply to fast food chains operating 30 or more establishments nationwide. Fast food workers who were part of an organizing effort by unions and progressive groups are jubilant. Rebecca Kornik, a Wendy’s worker, says the extra money will make a big difference in her life.

“I’ve been skipping much needed doctor’s visits and medicine,” Kornik said. “But all that is about to change now.”

Governor Cuomo spoke at a rally afterwards, saying the state’s current minimum wage is simply unsustainable.

“You cannot live and support a family on $18,000 a year in the state of New York, period,”  Cuomo said. “That’s why we have to raise the minimum wage.”

Cuomo predicts the rest of the state’s will follow New York’s lead and also adopt $15 an hour minimum wages. Several cities have already voted to increase the minimum wage to $15.

He also says he hopes to extend the higher minimum wage to other industries. Since Republicans in the legislature have been reluctant to approve legislation, a likely vehicle would be through more wage boards appointed by the governor.

The board’s decision angered some restaurant owners and business leaders. The state’s restaurant association called it an “extremist policy” that singles out one sector of one industry and said the wage board was stacked against them.

Ken Pokalsky, with the state’s Business Council, predicts that the new rules, which will increase pay, and therefore labor costs by 70 percent for fast food operators, will speed up a growing trend, the automation of many fast food services, like using kiosk based ordering and automatic filling of drinks.

“It’s not realistic to believe that the sector sees only one option,” Pokalsky said. “That they have to keep paying the same amount of people twice as much money for the same amount of profit.” 

He predicts there will be lawsuits.

The recommendations voted on by the wage board now go to the Governor’s Commissioner of Labor, who will publicly post them for a 15-day comment period, after that, the new rules for increasing the minimum wage can go into effect in 45 days.

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