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In a determined effort to raise the minimum wage for New York’s fast-food workers, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has instructed the state’s labor commissioner to assemble a Wage Board to determine the amount by which the state should increase the minimum wage.
Cuomo’s latest action bypasses the legislature altogether. The board will be given three months in which to make its recommendations, which will go into effect regardless of legislative approval.
In an op-ed for the New York Times, Cuomo recounted how he raised the state’s minimum wage in 2013 from $7.25 to $8.75, increasing to $9 at the end of 2015. Although Cuomo proposed raising it again to $11.50 in New York City and $10.50 elsewhere in the state this year, the legislature rejected his proposed budget.
“Income inequality is a national problem that leaders at all levels of government are grappling with,” he noted. “Nowhere is the income gap more extreme and obnoxious than in the fast-food industry. Fast-food CEOs are among the highest-paid corporate executives. … 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.”
Contrary to popular assumptions that most fast-food workers are teenagers who want to earn extra spending money, Cuomo said that 70 percent of these workers are over the age of 20, more than two-thirds are the primary wage earners in their families, and 26 percent are raising a child. Further, fast-food workers and their families are twice as likely to receive public assistance compared with other working families, with 52 percent having at least one family member on welfare. New York state’s public assistance spending totals $6,800 per fast-food worker annually – a $700 million annual cost to taxpayers, he said.
Cuomo has also worked to raise the wages of tipped restaurant worker, succeeding in increasing the minimum wage for New York’s tipped workers from $5 to $7.50 by the end of 2015.
His efforts on behalf of food workers add New York to the growing list of states, including Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and South Dakota, that are taking on the problem of stagnant fast-food wages by acting to increase the minimum wage.
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