The New York City Council has joined a chorus of voices calling on state lawmakers to increase the stagnant hourly minimum wage, as New York’s $15 minimum continues to lag behind other states and the cost of living continues to go up.
However, attempts to raise the minimum wage is seeing pushback from business advocates, who say small businesses could have to reduce staff numbers if forced to pay them more.
The act, introduced last month and sponsored by Democrats Senator Jessica Ramos and Assemblymember Latoya Joyner in the state Senate and Assembly, would raise the minimum wage in the city and surrounding suburbs to $21.25 an hour by 2026 and the wage for the rest of the state to $20.
From there, the minimum wage would adjust annually to account for inflation.
Ramos said approximately 1 million New York workers — about 16% of the workforce — are paid the minimum wage. Those workers are disproportionately women and people of color, groups that face barriers to advancement, the bill states.
New York was one of the first states to put its minimum wage on a path to $15 an hour, but has since fallen behind.
In 2016, it set a schedule of annual increases that brought New York City’s minimum wage for most workers to $15 at the end of 2018. Facing Republican opposition, the increases were not tied to the cost of living, so the minimum remains at $15.
Meanwhile, other cities that indexed their minimum wages to account for inflation have gone past $15. In January, Seattle’s will go up to $18.69 and Denver’s will rise to $17.29, the New York Times reports.
In a survey released by United Way of the National Capital Area in October, researchers reported that New York minimum-wage earners would have to work a total of 111 hours to afford the monthly rent on a one-bedroom apartment.
Actress and writer Zora Iman Crews joined the workforce about eight years ago out of college, working several retail jobs, and told BK Reader it was “cutthroat” out there for minimum wage workers.
Crews said, after working for $7.50 plus tips, New York’s minimum wage increase to $15 felt like a relief at the time.
However, she said if workers don’t have consistent hours or management who will see that people are scheduled fairly, minimum wage “is just that.”
“It’s the bare minimum, it’s the difference between deciding whether to buy groceries or a MetroCard to even get to work. It’s one week receiving a decent check and then the next pay period wondering how you’re going to budget and stretch far less money.”
More recently, Crews said she complained to a retail employer about her $17 per hour wage not being enough: “I was told that that was industry standard, and perhaps part-time work was not suited to my lifestyle — essentially I was told to look elsewhere instead of being supported by people I’d worked so hard for, for the last few years.”
Meanwhile, Chipotle worker Alyssa Roman said she and her colleagues needed a raise, and thanked minimum wage advocates for the Raise the Wage Act.
“I have no intention of supporting my family on anything less than $20/hour,” she said.
“If Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol claims he cannot afford to give us a raise, I’d like to remind him that he made $17.9 million last year. I think he and his fellow wealthy corporate bosses can afford to pay their workers $20 an hour.”
A new coalition known as Raise Up NY, made up of labor unions, community organizations and others, is now applying pressure on lawmakers and Hochul to support the Raise the Wage Act.
However, the legislation is poised to face backlash from the business community.
The Business Council of New York State told BK Reader it does not support a minimum wage increase at this time.
“Small businesses, in particular, are already saddled with high unemployment taxes and other state-imposed mandates that, when faced with higher wage mandates on top of it all, force them to make tough decisions that often time result in staff reductions,” the council’s Director of Communications Patrick Bailey said.
The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce declined to comment.
Meanwhile, with Democratic majorities in both legislative chambers, the bill could move quickly to Governor Hochul’s desk. The governor’s support is critical to the bill, and Hochul has not yet taken a firm position on increases to the state minimum wage.
Last month, a spokesperson for the governor told Fox5 that Hochul “remains committed to helping workers meet the rising cost of living and will review the legislation if it passes in both houses of the legislature.”
The next legislative session starts at the beginning of January 2023.