With national calls to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wants the state to lead by example. He’s imposing the wage raise in some sectors and pushing for the increase in others. Mountain Lake Public Television held a panel discussion recently on the pros and cons of increasing the minimum wage.
Mountain Lake Journal’s panel on New York’s plans to increase the minimum wage panel included employers, advocates and economists, who weighed in on the repercussions of raising the wage to $15 per hour.
The Wage Board has mandated that state employees and fast food workers will see their wages rise to $15 an hour by mid-2021. The State University of New York followed suit, announcing that hourly workers across the system would also see a minimum wage increase.
During his State of the State address, Cuomo lobbied the state legislature to make $15 the minimum for all workers in the state. “My proposal to go to $15 is reasonable. It is phased in to allow the economy to grow and to adjust.”
Panelists at the Mountain Lake forum noted that the only business sector represented before the wage board in discussions over the $15 minimum wage were fast food workers. Other business sectors were not at the table.
M & W Foods and White Management owns 22 quick-serve and four full-service restaurants in northern New York, Albany and Massachusetts. Director of Human Resources Jeff White calls the process to set the minimum wage in New York unfair. “They should have had all the parties at the table so that all the concerns and possible ramifications could have been talked about. And it wasn’t done in this case.”
Nine Platt Hospitality group operates the Best Western Plus Inn at Smithfield and the Ground Round Restaurant in Plattsburgh. President Bob Smith believes minimum wage issue is a political platform, noting how the Wage Board targeted one small sector of the hospitality industry. “It was politically low hanging fruit. It was popular to take that position. The next jump in minimum wage is a much more significant one for us. If they do away with the tip credit that’s going to be a huge, huge problem.”
Joint Council For Economic Opportunity CEO Bruce Garcia noted that the wage increase would also have severe repercussions in the not-for-profit sector. “We’re talking about increasing the minimum wage over the course of the next 6 years by about 67 percent when what the normal progression would be, would be about 19 and a half percent. Most agencies and most businesses can’t keep pace with that kind of an increase. I’m all in favor of people making a living wage. I see way too many people that live in poverty and I know the devastating impact of living in poverty. I obviously want to see us get there. I’d just like to see the time frame change.”
SUNY Plattsburgh Economist Colin Read offered that the minimum wage is being used as a panacea to solve poverty issues. “We have the Earned Income Tax Credit that is probably underutilized. And another nuance I think we need to look at is $15 isn’t $15. It has to have a cost of living that truly reflects the poverty level of different regions rather than this kind-of simplistic one-size-fits-all kind of model.”
A lawsuit has been filed against the Wage Board by the National Restaurant Association and an expedited hearing is expected to be heard in April.