Critics: #FightFor15 Ends With Inequality

Apr 1, 2016

The New York budget deal came down to the final minutes before the deadline in Albany, and in the “Fight for $15,” upstate will be capped at $12.50.

Hours after California became the first state to pass a $15 minimum wage, lawmakers in New York agreed on a budget deal that would raise the minimum wage across the state, with New York City getting $15 an hour by 2018 (tack on an extra year for businesses with fewer than 10 employees). Westchester and Long Island ramp up to $15 an hour by 2021.

Upstate's minimum wage would slowly rise to $12.50 an hour by 2021. Karen Scharff, Executive Director of Citizen Action of New York, says although #FightFor15 activists have cause to celebrate, the budget agreement maintains inequality — especially for upstate and for students in poor communities.  "The state legislature left upstate workers behind, condemning workers to poverty for many many more years, we don't even know how long. Our state's economy can never thrive as long as upstate workers are forced to work at poverty wages, and we're gonna fight back and look to change that, and keep fighting for 15 for upstate New York."

Business groups have been very wary of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s minimum wage hike proposal for months.

Zack Hutchins, Director of Communications for the Business Council of New York, says the group is disappointed.  "The increase, at roughly $8,000 per job upstate and $13,000 downstate, when fully implemented, is still too much for many businesses. The last thing employers need is higher state-imposed costs."

Minimum wage increases could be paused beginning in 2019 pending review by the governor's Division of Budget.  There is also concern that a higher minimum wage forces businesses to hike the pay of other workers who may have seniority or higher positions within a company. Scharff points out that this year, voters will have the chance to change who represents them in the legislature. She advises they take that chance very seriously. "I think unfortunately our upstate senators believe that it's better for upstate New York for people to live in poverty. They say that they need to protect the upstate economy, but we've seen decade after decade after decade that our upstate economy cannot recover through some kind of strategy as business tax credits. What we need is for people to learn a decent living wage so they can support their families and also spend their money in local businesses. And it's very clear that we have two very different economic philosophies: A philosophy that we build our economies from the bottom up, with workers earning a decent wage, and the senate Republican philosophy which is try to build the economy with trickle-down economics, which has failed over and over again."

The Business Council is also discouraged by the spending plan's "expansive' paid family leave law. Hutchins says the budget's middle class tax reductions are welcome.  "But the final budget agreement fails to improve the overall economic climate of the state.  The Business Council has consistently and repeatedly laid out reasonable, necessary and overdue reforms that would spur economic growth and benefit the entire state. New York needs to do better."