President's Message

Wage Board Must Look Beyond Fast Food

In May of this year, Governor Cuomo directed New York State’s Acting Labor Commissioner, Mario J. Musolino, to empanel a Fast Food Wage Board.  The Wage Board is presently holding public hearings and accepting comments, and is expected to make recommendations on an increase in the minimum wage in the fast food industry in July.  It is essential that the Wage Board and State policymakers reach beyond this limited charge and increase the minimum wage for all workers.

New York State Labor Law empowers the Commissioner to adopt or modify the recommendations of the Wage Board, and to issue a wage order setting a new State minimum wage for the occupation.  Creation of the Wage Board is a triumph for advocates and grassroots groups who have organized protests and spoken out for a wage increase for the underpaid workers in this multi-billion dollar industry.[1]

There is a significant discrepancy between the amount a full-time, year-round minimum wage worker earns and the amount necessary to provide for a family.  The State’s minimum wage is currently $8.75 per hour, equivalent to $18,200 per year if the work is full-time and year-round.  Much employment in the fast food industry, like other low-wage work, is part-time[2].  Massachusetts Institute for Technology calculates a living wage for New York State to be $26.19 for a family of two with one adult and one child to cover basic family expenses without relying on publicly provided housing or income assistance.[3] 

In New York we have the opportunity to address this discrepancy for some of our lowest wage earners.  And evidence shows that when the minimum wage is increased, there is likely to be a spillover effect, with workers whose wages are just above the minimum going up as well.

New York’s approximately 165,000 fast-food workers earn, on average, $16,000 per year[4] and more than one-third of front line fast-food workers in New York State belong to a family receiving public assistance through Medicaid or SNAP.[5] 

From a policy and human perspective, singling out one industry could have severe unintended consequences, particularly for workers and employers who take responsibility for caring for children, seniors, and people with disabilities.  These caretakers—the workers who provide personal care, home care, child care, care for seniors and disabled people—are a large and important part of our statewide workforce that desperately need an increase.  Employees often earn very low wages for extremely demanding and risky work, and their employers compete with fast-food and retail for their workforce.  More than half a million individuals provide this type of care, some at minimum wage and with median wages ranging from $9.48 to $10.22.[6]  

While this Wage Board is empowered to address fast food workers, this is an opportunity to urge them and other policymakers to reach more broadly and thoughtfully and consider a minimum wage increase for all.  The New York Times Editorial Board recently called on the Governor to follow up on the work of the fast food Wage Board by naming additional wage boards to investigate minimum wage increases in similarly low-wage fields.  We must see this as a start; raising the minimum wage for fast food workers should lead to raising the minimum wage for all workers.  And we must continue to push for a minimum wage that is fair and just and indexed to inflation so that wages increase as costs rise.

[1] $660 billion in 2013. 

[2] NYS Department of Labor, Division of Research and Statistics, Briefing Document on Employment and Wages in New York State’s Fast-Food Restaurants, May 2015.

[3] http://livingwage.mit.edu/states/36

[4] NYS Department of Labor, Division of Research and Statistics, Briefing Document on Employment and Wages in New York State’s Fast-Food Restaurants, May 2015.

[5] Sylvia Allegretto, Marc Doussard, Dave Graham-Squire, Ken Jacobs, Dan Thompson, and Jeremy Thompson, Fast Food, Poverty Wages: The Public cost of Low-Wage Jobs in the Fast-Food Industry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne and UC Berkeley Labor Center, October 15, 2013.

[6] Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014.