ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York’s plan to give fast-food workers a $15 minimum hourly wage is spurring similar efforts in other states even as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s effort to enact a $15 wage for all workers faces vocal opposition at home.
In a campaign modeled after the successful push by fast-food workers in New York, groups in 18 states are creating citizen wage boards to pressure elected officials to raise the minimum wage. While the boards have no legal or governmental power to raise wages, they reflect the increasingly potent political muscle of low-wage workers.
“New York has done yeoman’s work. It’s one of the states that is leading the way,” said Michigan state Sen. Bert Johnson, a Democrat from Highland Park. “It’s a growing conversation around the country. Other states show that this can be done.”
New York became the first state to enact a $15 minimum wage though the one approved by Cuomo’s administration last month applies only to fast-food workers at chain restaurants. Cuomo bypassed the Legislature by having his labor commissioner appoint a state Wage Board to recommend the increase.
The Democratic governor said he will seek to raise the minimum hourly wage to $15 for all industries, an idea sure to face opposition in the state’s Republican-controlled Senate, where members say such a sharp increase would devastate small businesses. The state minimum is now $8.75 and was already set to rise to $9 at year’s end.
Restaurant owners continue to mull a legal challenge to the larger increase, saying it’s unfair and should have gone through the Legislature. Business groups, meanwhile, are preparing for a fight in the Legislature over Cuomo’s broader proposal. The Business Council of New York State, an influential organization of state business leaders, this week estimated that raising the wage to $15 for all workers would increase total private sector labor costs by $15.7 billion a year.
“In my particular business it would mean a 20 percent increase in prices,” said Bill Pompa, president of Mr. Subb, an 18-store sandwich chain in the Albany area. “I understand you can’t make the minimum wage and support a family. But I don’t think the minimum wage was ever designed to support a family.”
New York law allowed Cuomo to raise the minimum wage for a particular industry without legislative approval. But raising the wage for all workers would require legislation and a fight with opponents.
Ken Pokalsky, vice president at the Business Council, said he doesn’t consider it a foregone conclusion that the Legislature would support a $15 minimum wage for all workers.
“I’m still expecting legal challenges (to the fast-food wage increase) that will shape what the Legislature does,” he said. “No state has anything close to $15 now. There is a lot that must be looked at in a serious way.”
The campaign for a $15 minimum began in West Coast cities such as Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco, all of which are now phasing in the higher wage over multiple years. Labor groups are seeking to put a referendum on a statewide $15 wage on the ballot next year in California. Efforts are also underway in states where a $15 wage faces much greater political challenges, including Missouri, Arizona, Colorado and North Carolina.
“We’re not going to stop until we get our $15,” said David Bates, an 18-year-old McDonald’s worker in New Orleans who is part of a “fight for $15” push in his city. “I would be able to go back and finish high school, pay bills and have money to provide for myself. It may take a while, but they are hearing our voices.”