New York Governor Circumvents GOP Senate, Moves to Boost Fast-Food Worker Wages

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New York Governor Circumvents GOP Senate, Moves to Boost Fast-Food Worker Wages

Nina Liss-Schultz

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will take executive action to raise the minimum wage of fast-food workers in the state, after state Republican legislators refused to go along with the wage hike.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will take executive action to raise the minimum wage of fast-food workers in the state, after state Republican legislators refused to go along with the wage hike.

Republicans have a one-seat advantage in the New York Senate, while Democrats dominate the house.

Cuomo, in a press conference and a New York Times op-ed, said he would direct the state labor commissioner to create a panel to review whether fast-food industry wages should be raised.

“Nowhere is the income gap more extreme and obnoxious than in the fast-food industry,” Cuomo wrote. “The average fast-food CEO made $23.8 million in 2013, more than quadruple the average from 2000 (adjusted for inflation). Meanwhile, entry-level food-service workers in New York State earn, on average, $16,920 per year, which at a 40-hour week amounts to $8.50 an hour.”

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The board will recommend a wage increase if officials find that New York fast-food workers are not paid a living wage. The increase would be specific to the fast-food industry, and would not affect other low-wage workers in the state.

In the latest budget negotiations with the state legislature, Cuomo proposed increasing the minimum wage for all workers, to $11.50 in New York City and $10.50 everywhere else in the state. Republicans in the state legislature slashed the measure from the budget, and vehemently opposed directing the commissioner to examine fast-food wages.

“[Fast-food companies’] profits are based on unpaid wages and unpaid employee expenses,” Cuomo said, according to a Bloomberg report. “If the Republican senate doesn’t want to hear it, then I’ll use the powers that I have.”

The New York minimum wage is $8.75 an hour, and will increase to $9 at the end of this year.

New York’s GOP representatives did not include any wage increases in their latest budget proposal, with some Republicans charging that a wage hike would hurt the state’s economy.

“What you’re doing here is diminishing small business and putting small business out of business,” state Sen. Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn) said, per TWC News.

Three in five small business owners said in a national 2014 survey that they supported a wage hike to $10.10, according to the Department of Labor. More than half of small business owners said the minimum wage should be higher, and that by doing so they “would benefit from lower employee turnover, increased productivity and customer satisfaction.”

New York is one of a few states that allow the governor to increase wages without the legislature’s approval, according to the Washington Post. Some local governments have increased wages one industry at a time; last year, Los Angeles raised the wages of some hotel workers to $15.37 an hour.

Portland lawmakers in February raised the minimum wage for city workers to $15 an hour. Seattle’s $15 minimum wage went into effect April 1, with one of the increase’s most vocal proponents, city council member Kshama Sawant, now facing an electoral challenge from Seattle Democrats opposed to the wage hike.

Fast-food workers across the country have fought for higher wages over the past year. Backed by the Fight for $15 campaign, low-wage workers have captured the attention of state and local governments, some of which have responded with wage increases.