The state Assembly voted 101-44 to hike the state minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour — a move that Queens lawmakers support as way to help working families get above the poverty line — but whether the increase will pass the Senate and be approved by Gov. Cuomo is an open question.
The bill that passed would also allow for automatic increases tied to the rate of inflation.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) had introduced a bill in January 2012 for an increase to $8.50 an hour with indexing. But a recent bill amended the increase to $9 an hour along with indexing, requiring an increase each year for inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index. Cuomo has said he would support a hike to $8.75 an hour.
President Obama has called for a national increase to $9 an hour.
Referring to the president, Silver recently said, “I am heartened by his rousing endorsement to raise the wage and tie it to the cost of living. However, New York cannot wait while Washington weighs the pros and cons of a federal shift in the minimum wage. We must act now.”
Lawmakers in Queens agreed that an increase is long overdue.
“The minimum wage in New York has only increased 10 cents per hour in the last six years and was raised with the most recent federal minimum wage increase from $7.15 to $7.25 an hour in 2009,” Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) said before the measure was passed. “People deserve an honest wage for an honest day’s work. This is America, where people who play by the rules and work hard to put a roof over their families’ heads and food on the table deserve to be respected with adequate pay.”
Assemblyman Bill Scarborough (D-Jamaica) said he too is in favor of the increase because the existing rate is not a living wage for anyone or a family. Also speaking before the bill passed his house, he said that at this point, the members are willing to accept whatever increase they can get.
The Senate delegation from Queens also favors raising the minimum wage, including Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Jamaica), chairman of the Independent Democratic Conference, the five-member group that is sharing Senate leadership with the Republicans.
Smith said that given the high cost of living, especially in New York, raising the minimum wage is an economic necessity.
“Doing so would boost consumer spending and stimulate job creation,” Smith said. “New York’s minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour, which means a person working 40 hours a week for 52 straight weeks only earns $15,080 a year. Even for a single person without children that’s barely enough to cover basic needs or rent. That’s unfair. Hard work should be rewarded with a fair wage.”
Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) agreed that providing minimum wage earners with greater compensation for their hard work would help stimulate local economic growth throughout the state and lead to the creation of thousands of jobs.
“For too long over 1.1 million hardworking New Yorkers have been unable to break the cycle of poverty despite having full-time jobs. The state’s minimum wage is too low and our neighbors are the ones suffering from continued inaction,” Stavisky said.
Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) said he believes there is a very good chance of the bill being passed.
“We’ve done it before in the past as a city, state, and country,” said Addabbo. “There are hardworking individuals who provide for their families, and an increase in pay will help tremendously.”
Among the opponents of a minimum wage hike, however, are businesses that say higher mandatory pay means fewer employees.
“The bill passed by the Assembly tonight would add an additional direct cost of nearly $4000 for each full-time minimum wage employee, plus indirect costs caused by ‘wage compression,’ as wages are adjusted for higher earning employees,” Heather Briccetti, president and CEO of The Business Council of New York State, said late Monday. “Raising the minimum wage will impact retailers, tourism, small businesses, farms and not-for-profits and reduce job opportunities. To meet these costs, employers will have to eliminate jobs or reduce workers’ hours, raise prices, defer investments or reduce profits — none of which promotes economic growth.”
But more common in Queens is the support expressed by workers’ advocacy groups such as Make the Road New York.
“We at Make the Road support the proposal to raise the wage to $9 plus indexing, which has the votes to pass both the Assembly and the Senate,” said Deborah Axt, co-executive director of the organization.