On November 10, 2015, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that he would raise the minimum wage to $15 for all employees of the State of New York, making New York the first state to enact a $15 public sector minimum wage.
In April 2015, hundreds of fast-food workers and labor allies protested in the streets, demanding wage increases, the organizers behind the fast-food strikes explicitly called for an industry wage of $15 an hour in New York City. Following these events, Governor Cuomo worked to increase the minimum wage for not only fast food workers but also for all state workers. In a New York Times op-ed published on May 6, 2015, Governor Cuomo complained “nowhere is the income gap more extreme and obnoxious than in the fast-food industry. The average fast-food C.E.O. made $23.8 million in 2013. Meanwhile, entry-level food-service workers in New York State earn, on average, $16,920 per year, which at a 40-hour a week amounts $8.50 an hour.”
Under New York State law, the governor can unilaterally appoint wage boards to investigate wage rates. Since the 1930’s, New York State frequently has used wage boards to review workers’ pay in several industries including beauty shops, summer camps, and restaurants. A wage board—composed of business, labor and public representatives—recommends increases in pay if it finds that wages are insufficient to provide for the life and health of workers. Through this process, the state labor commissioner can order a wage increase without legislative approval.
Using the wage board process, Governor Cuomo said he would gradually increase the hourly rate in the public sector. “I believe that if you work hard and work full time, you should not be condemned to live in poverty. Yet millions of families nationwide continue to be left behind by an insufficient minimum wage – and it’s time that changed,” Cuomo stated. The wage increase for state workers will be fully phased on July 1, 2021, while wages for States employees in New York City will reach $15 per hour by the end of 2018, in light of its higher cost of living. The Governor’s action will benefit approximately 10,000 state employees, including those in executive agencies, the legislature, the judiciary, and the independently elected agencies of the Department of Law and the Office of State Comptroller, affecting approximately 9,000 employees outside of New York City and 1,000 within. This wage increase has a projected cost of about $20.6 million a year, a drop in New York’s over $150 billion annual budget.
Governor Cuomo’s action has national political ambitions. “The nation is going to watch us and we’re going to raise up this state and we’re going to raise up this nation to a higher level than it’s ever been,” he said.
If you believe your employer has denied you the minimum wage or illegally withheld your wages, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.