Celebrating the Wage Board Decision in New York

By Kaitlin Phillips

Local Albany Fast-food workers, social justice advocates, and others gather at Citizen Action headquarters in Albany, N.Y. on Wednesday to watch the live feed of the wage board issue their recommendation to raise the minimum wage for fast-food workers across New York state.

When it comes to the challenge of raising the minimum wage in New York State, the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State (LRC of NYS) has not shied away from it; in fact, they’re helping to lead it. Through participating in actions, coordinating Moral Monday demonstrations at the New York State Capitol, the LRC of NYS has made it known that the poverty wages inflicted upon New York workers is highly immoral and should be a cause for major concern. Though the work rages on in New York to establish a living wage for every New York citizen, some New Yorkers, and many of us who support their struggle, tasted a small bit of victory this past Wednesday.  

After years of fast food workers organizing for a wage off which they're able to survive, Governor Andrew Cuomo created a Wage Board this past May. The Wage Board allows the governor to examine the wages of a particular industry and potentially issue an industry specific minimum wage if deemed necessary. The board, consisting of three members (Byron Brown, Mayor of Buffalo, representing the public; Kevin Ryan, Chairman and Founder of Gilt, representing businesses; Mike Fishman, Secretary-Treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, representing labor) met in public hearings throughout the state over the past few months to hear economic analyses, worker and employer testimony, and general public opinion about the implications of raising the minimum wage for the approximate 180,000 fast-food workers state-wide.

On Wednesday, July 22, the wage board came to its final proposal that will be passed along to New York State Labor Commissioner Mario Musolino, with a final public comment period before Musolino’s approval. The recommendation calls for fast-food workers in New York City to see their wages raised to $15 an hour (phased in) by the year 2018. The rest of the state’s fast-food workers will see minimum wage raised to fifteen dollars an hour by 2021.

Though hitting the $15 mark calls for enormous celebration, as the prospect of getting a mere $10.10 just a year ago seemed insurmountable, many still insist this isn’t enough. The dire situation these workers live in as a result of making poverty wages is something that needs to be changed now. In Albany County—where the New York State Labor-Religion Coalition is located—a single adult would need to make $16.88 an hour to afford food, housing, transportation, health care, clothing, and taxes. In six years when the fast-food workers in Albany County are able to earn $15 an hour, they will already be staggeringly behind. This is why the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State is not considering the struggle finished.

Though they’ve made huge grounds in correcting the immorality of poverty wages, there work is far from being done. Fast-food workers can check off a victory they once never thought imaginable, but the question becomes “Who’s next?”. The Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State will not stop battling for economic justice and a moral New York until all New Yorkers are lifted from the binds of working and living under poverty wages.