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NY Restaurants File Formal Objections To $15 Fast-Food Wage

Bart Everson/Flickr

The battle to raise the wage in New York continues.  Franchise owners have filed formal objections to Governor Andrew Cuomo's plan to raise the minimum wage for fast-food workers to $15, a prelude to a possible lawsuit.

The increase, which will impact an estimated 200,000 workers, was endorsed by a state wage board last month and is set to be phased in beginning at the end of the year, pending formal approval by Cuomo's labor commissioner.

In a letter opposing the hike, a lawyer for the National Restaurant Association argues the increase unfairly applies to only national chain restaurants and infringes on the legislature's authority to pass minimum wage increases.

In general, the business community has opposed the minimum wage hike; lawsuits over the issue have been expected since the decision in late July.  Jay Holland is the Government Affairs Coordinator for the National Restaurant Association:  "The wage board process was completely unfair and arbitrarily targeted certain businesses for a minimum wage increase without justification. There's no logical distinction between working a register at a fast-food restaurant and a retail store. The process violate a core democratic principle by not going through the established legislative process. The board did not have a representative from the restaurant industry and every member of the board supported the increase before being appointed to it. Nothing about the process was fair, and that's why we're left with a poor public policy."

Franchise owners are considering whether to challenge the increase in court.  Activist Mark Dunlea works with the Campaign For A Real Minimum Wage Increase:    "We do agree his [Cuomo's] idea of trying to do it just for fast-food workers but particularly only for fast-food workers for certain large companies, 30 franchises, does raise some legal questions about his strategy."

Meantime, a proposal floated by Ulster County lawmakers would establish a $15-an-hour minimum wage for county employees beginning on January 1st. The measure came up for discussion Wednesday by members of the Legislature’s Ways and Means Committee.  David Donaldson is Vice Chair of the Ulster County Legislature.  "It would not affect a great deal of workers in the county because most are making more than the $15 an hour, but it would affect a few."

Action was postponed on the measure until September.  Dunlea notes the Ulster County legislators are among a growing number of Americans believing wages need to be raised.     "It's very gratifying to see that so many people believe that somebody who works needs to make enough to support their family. $15 an hour certainly gets people a lot closer to that. We wish that Governor Cuomo and his labor board would in fact actually support $15 an hour across the board."

If the Ulster legislation does make it through committee and is approved, it would go to County Executive Mike Hein.   Hein supported the fast-food worker wage hike: he's on record stating "It's smart economic policy," but he could not be reached for comment Tuesday on raising county workers’ pay. If he nixed that proposal, the legislature could override a veto with a two-thirds vote.

Again, Dunlea:   "$15 an hour still falls short of a living wage in most parts of New York state, especially if you have children. Probably the biggest problem in most communities is the cost of housing, especially downstate"

New York's minimum wage is currently $8.75 an hour and will rise to $9 an hour on December 31st.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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