Cuomo earns praise for minimum wage

Stephon Johnson | 5/14/2015, 3:20 p.m.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to impanel a board to examine minimum wage in the fast-food industry.
Andrew Cuomo Pat Arnow

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to impanel a board to examine minimum wage in the fast-food industry. The board, which the governor has directed acting New York State Labor Commissioner Mario Musolino to impanel, will return in approximately three months with recommendations that will not require legislative approval.

The governor relayed his thoughts in an op-ed penned for The New York Times.

“In 2013, I raised New York state’s minimum wage; it is now $8.75, up from $7.25 (and will rise to $9 at the end of the year),” wrote Cuomo. “In my latest budget, I proposed raising it again, to $11.50 in New York City and $10.50 elsewhere in the state. But the Legislature rejected that proposal. So I am continuing the fight. While lawmakers delay, I am taking action.”

Cuomo then anticipated questions regarding the legality of his actions and put those to bed.

“State law empowers the labor commissioner to investigate whether wages paid in a specific industry or job classification are sufficient to provide for the life and health of those workers—and if not, to impanel a Wage Board to recommend what adequate wages should be,” wrote Cuomo.

With Cuomo drawing his line in the sand, everyone felt compelled to comment on it. With fast-food workers making such headway in three years, to have the ear of the governor was enough of a victory for some.

“Governor Cuomo is showing real leadership in taking this historic step to raise wages and help tens of thousands of working people in this state,” said McDonald’s workers and Fight for $15 leader Flavia Cabral in a statement. “We urge the wage board to listen to the voices of fast-food workers who have been speaking out for more than two years and approve a wage of $15 an hour in New York.”

Cabral also noted that the rallies and strikes, which some have dubbed a nuisance, seemed to have worked.

“No one in New York can survive on $8.75 an hour, so we've been on strike nine times,” Cabral said. “All we've ever asked for is a fair shot at the middle class and a chance to provide for our families.”

Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, said, “Governor Cuomo’s historic action in convening a wage board to examine and set wages for fast-food workers in New York state bears testament to the power of workers organizing for decent pay and a voice on the job. That the Fight for $15, which started in New York City less than three years ago, has achieved this milestone is a game-changer that will no doubt reverberate around the nation and across numerous low-wage industries.” 

Those fighting for labor rights in the political realm also praised Cuomo and hoped that the state Legislature follows suit. New York Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie talked about how it’s up to the state Senate to get with the program.

“The Assembly has long led the fight to raise the minimum wage and ensure that all New Yorkers earn a living wage,” said Heastie in a statement. “In fact, the New York state Assembly is the first and only state house to pass legislation to increase the wage to $15. It is now time for the Senate to act to implement a meaningful minimum wage. New Yorkers who work 40 hours per week should not be struggling to feed themselves or their families.”

 New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman talked about how it’s “unconscionable” that people working full-time jobs are still living below the poverty line.

“As I spoke about last month, state law allows the commissioner of labor to convene a wage board to investigate and increase the minimum wage for any occupation if the commissioner determines that a substantial number of employees are receiving wages insufficient to provide adequate maintenance and to protect their health,” said Schneiderman in a statement.