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Legislators push for immediate minimum wage reform

Stephon Johnson | 1/16/2014, 5:01 p.m.

With the state of California having recently increased its minimum wage to $10 an hour and New Jersey voters having approved a measure to increase its state’s wage and index future increases to inflation, it was high time for New York to adjust recent legislation on the fly.

Not the types to sit on their laurels, last Friday, New York state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Assembly Labor Committee Chair Carl Heastie introduced legislation to expedite a minimum wage increase and tie future increases to inflation.

The legislation, A.8343, would expedite the implementation of the already agreed upon $9 an hour minimum wage increase along with the aforementioned future increases to inflation. According to the legislation, the required increase would take effect a full year ahead of schedule on Dec. 31, 2014.

In a statement, Silver said that the legislation needs to be expedited due to the needs of working-class and poor New Yorkers.

“Introducing this legislation to accelerate the three-stage minimum wage increase underscores the fact that right now, there are thousands of hardworking men and women that are still forced to choose between putting food on the table for their families and paying their bills each month,” said Silver. “These are the people—the families with children to feed, houses to maintain and doctor’s expenses to pay for—that simply cannot wait two more years for a decent raise.

“It is unreasonable to condemn these families to a life of poverty in order to appease large-scale businesses that are exploiting the working poor to maximize profits,” concluded Silver.

Last March, the Assembly passed legislation to increase the minimum wage to $9 an hour on Jan. 1 and then index it to adjust for inflation, according to the Consumer Price Index.

While union leaders praised the March legislation, they much prefer the current legislation going through the Assembly.

“Accelerating the phase-in and providing for indexation address both the immediate and long-term needs for a strong minimum wage,” said Mario Cilento, president of the New York state AFL-CIO, in a statement. “In addition, correcting inequities in the law that negatively impact tipped workers and incentivize the suppression of wages restores fairness.”

While much of the focus centers on the first bill, Silver and Heastie also introduced a second bill, A.8344, which would repeal reimbursement tax credits to low-wage employers who pay minimum wage to students between the ages of 16 and 19. According to the legislation, the credit would incentivize businesses to substitute “adequately” paid older individuals and non-students with students earning the legal minimum wage.

Heastie said “significant strides” needed to be made toward giving New Yorkers a more “fair and honest” minimum wage in one year rather than in two years.

“We refuse to sit by as thousands of New Yorkers work day in and day out on minimum wage and struggle to support their families,” said Heastie.

Another part of the proposed legislation involves an increase in the cash wage for food service workers to $5.50 immediately followed by an increase to $6.20 on Dec. 31. The cash wage would then be indexed to inflation annually after that. The bill would also require a wage board to conduct reviews to ensure that cash wages are adequate to protect the health and livelihood of all hospitality workers.

Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union President Stuart Appelbaum praised both the Assembly members and the proposed legislation while taking shots at a big wig in retail.

“The acceleration of the minimum wage increase with indexing to inflation will provide a much-needed boost to struggling working families and help strengthen our state’s economy,” said Appelbaum. “Silver and Heastie also deserve credit and praise for dropping a tax credit that created a disincentive for hiring and retaining workers aged 20 or older. Walmart and other low-wage employers didn’t need that tax credit.”