June 17, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Despite a nationwide groundswell of popular and political support for a $15 an hour minimum wage — as well as a report from the city comptroller’s office detailing a $10 billion boost to the local economy — New York’s restaurant industry is holding fast to its ongoing mantra of higher menu prices, reduced profits and fewer jobs.
“At a time when many areas of New York State continue to struggle to recover jobs lost in the 2009 recession, the last thing the state’s economy needs is a significant increase in mandatory labor costs,” Ken Pokalsky, vice-president, Business Council of New York State, said before Monday’s Fast Food Wage Board Hearing at NYU. “That is what a minimum wage hike is – an employer cost mandate, that will result in increased prices, reduced profitability, or reduced spending on labor or other business needs.”
32BJ SEIU, the union championing struggling fast food workers, expressed its “disappointment” with the Business Council’s continued intractability, saying in a statement that it was, nevertheless, “encouraged to see local business leader Michael Mehiel and Seattle’s Nick Hanauer coming out in support of a $15 minimum wage for fast food workers and exploding the myth that it will be bad for business.”
On Monday, Seattle venture capitalist Nick Hanauer addressed a pro-worker rally ahead of this week’s Wage Board hearing where he dismissed the notion that higher wages lead to fewer jobs, calling the idea a “lie and an intimidation tactic.”
“We built an overwhelming majority support for $15 in Seattle by advancing one incredibly simple proposition, which is, when workers make more money, businesses have more customers and they need more workers,” Hanauer said.
Business Council President and CEO Heather C. Briccetti released a statement arguing that any increase in the state minimum wage should be addressed through the state legislature and not “unilaterally” by the commissioner of labor, as the law allows.
Labor leaders and worker advocates here, however, have long maintained that New York City should have the power to set its own minimum wage — without having to rely on input from Upstate legislators.
“The amount declared by the wage board is only one component to a larger discussion,” said Councilmemeber I. Daneek Miller, chair of the Committee on Civil Service and Labor. “Quite frankly, it is essential that New York City is empowered to set its own minimum wage. We should not be held to the economic standards of a Rochester or Syracuse when the cost of living in our city is drastically higher. Considering the cost of living, $15 is where we begin this conversation in terms of allowing for workers to provide for their families with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
Before the city took trailblazing action to phase in a $15 an hour minimum wage, restaurant workers in Seattle were still earning more than their counterparts in New York. The impact on the industry? Seattle has more restaurants per capita than New York.
“If restaurants pay restaurant workers so even they have enough to eat at those restaurants, that’s not bad for the restaurant business," Hanauer added "That’s good for the restaurant business.”