In New York Minimum Wage Debates, Lots of Talk, Little Action

Dueling minimum wage proposals from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo have raised the stakes recently in the ongoing fight to raise the minimum wage in those jurisdictions, while a state wage board has recommended some fairly positive – and some not so positive – changes to the minimum wage for the state’s tipped workers.

Mayor de Blasio this week called for raising the minimum wage in New York City to $13 per hour by 2016 and to $15 by 2019, which would match the highest city minimum in the country alongside Seattle and San Francisco.

Governor Cuomo’s office responded, calling a minimum wage proposal above $13 “a non-starter” – even though the Governor had backed a $13.13 minimum wage plan just last year.

Last month, the Governor proposed a new, lower minimum wage plan than the one he had earlier supported.   Cuomo’s proposal would set a $10.50 statewide minimum with an $11.50 minimum for New York City.  Mayor de Blasio said the latest Cuomo proposal “simply doesn’t do enough” for New York City’s low-wage workers.  Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, called the Governor’s plan “seriously inadequate” for both the state and the city.

The current state minimum wage, given a modest boost by lawmakers last year, is a meager $8.75 per hour – set to hit $9 next year – and there is, as yet, no higher rate for New York City.  The subminimum wage for tipped workers in New York State is now just $5 per hour for food service workers and $5.65 for other tipped service workers.

A New York State wage board, convened last year to consider updating minimum wages for tipped workers, announced a set of recommendations this week that would increase the tipped minimum wage to $7.50, and to $8.50 in New York City if the city’s minimum wage is raised above the state level.

But the board also placated the restaurant industry by recommending an entirely new and easily manipulated loophole that would allow restaurant owners to pay many tipped workers less than those new rates.  And, as The New York Times noted this week, the board also “squandered the opportunity to propose ending the subminimum wage altogether,” – a truly positive step it could have recommended, and one which has been implemented already in eight other states.

Meanwhile, action could be taken directly by the governor and the state labor commissioner to provide solid, meaningful raises to New York’s lowest-paid workers, even without state legislative measures.

As the song says, “It’s up to you, New York.”  We’re still waiting.

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