- Albany 05/20/2015 (AP)
Fast-food workers raised their voices across New York on Wednesday to demand a $15-an-hour minimum wage, calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to follow the lead of Los Angeles and other cities that have recently approved big increases.
Workers rallied in Albany, New York City and Buffalo just as a wage board created by Cuomo met for the first time to consider raising the minimum wage for those in the fast-food industry.
They hoisted signs that said: "When we fight, we win" — while yelling, "What do we want? $15!"
Cuomo and Democrats in the Legislature support a broader increase for all workers making the minimum wage, but the effort is stalled in the state Senate. The minimum wage is now $8.75 an hour and is set to increase to $9 at year's end.
On Tuesday the Los Angeles City Council endorsed a plan to raise the city's minimum wage to $15 an hour. Seattle and San Francisco have approved a series of increases to take their minimum wages to $15 within a few years.
McDonald's worker Jacqui Jordan said she is optimistic that wage increases on the West Coast will spur action in New York state.
"When workers join together they can make this happen," said Jordan, who now makes $9 an hour at her Albany restaurant.
Cuomo has proposed raising the minimum wage to $10.50 statewide and $11.50 in New York City, but the governor has not said whether he would support an increase to $15. Cuomo adviser Christine Quinn, the former New York City Council speaker, spoke at the rally in Albany Wednesday but said the administration would leave the decision to the wage board.
"The wage board has to do its work," she told reporters, adding that Cuomo stands "in strong solidarity with all the workers who are pushing for $15."
The board is expected to issue its recommendation this summer. Any increase it recommends would need the approval of Cuomo's labor commissioner but would not be subject to a vote in the Legislature.
"LA has thrown down the gauntlet to New York, so New York needs to step up," Bill Lipton, founder of the liberal Working Families Party, told a crowd of workers and supporters who brought their message to the entrance of the state Department of Labor offices in lower Manhattan.
"Our goal is within reach," Lipton said. "That victory is going to reverberate to other sectors, and make New York once again the leader of the fight against inequality."
Business groups have cautioned that raising the minimum wage will increase labor costs, drive up prices and force employers to cut hours or positions. They also question why fast-food restaurants are being singled out.
"Important policy decisions deserve substantial discussions, not a rushed process by unelected citizens," Melissa Fleischut, CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association said of the wage board. "Government should treat all New Yorkers and businesses equally, not pick winners and losers as the executive sees fit."