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Minimum wage law reveals disparities

A quirk in the newly enacted minimum wage increase could mean that in  upstate New York by the early 2020’s,  fast food workers could  be paid significantly more than other low wage jobs, like being a home health care worker or a cashier in a grocery store.

Governor Cuomo and the legislature approved in the state budget a multi step plan to increase the minimum wage to $15 in New York City and it’s suburbs, and $12.50 in the next five years for the rest of the state.

But more than six months before lawmakers acted,  Governor Cuomo convened a wage board that enacted a different schedule for fast food workers. All minimum wage employees in that industry will be paid $15 an hour by 2021.

Cuomo announced the wage board’s decision with Vice President Joe Biden on September 10, 2015.

Cuomo, after the state spending plan was agreed upon, concedes that there will likely be a discrepancy between the pay of fast food workers and others, for a time. But he was vague about how it might be resolved.

“It depends on the region, where they coincide,” Cuomo said.

Because of the two different minimum wages, for fast food workers and the rest of workers,  an employee at McDonalds’ or Burger King could make $100 more a week than a home health care worker or grocery store cashier.

Ron Deutsch, is with Fiscal Policy Institute, a union backed think tank that supports the minimum wage increase.  Deutsch says the potential of two different pay scales, one for  fast food workers, and another for the rest of minimum wage employees, will cause an economic imbalance.

“We think that has the potential from certain industries towards the fast food industry,” said Deutsch. “And we think that would be unfortunate.”

He says is group supports having the same rate of increase  for all minimum wage workers, to $15.

Governor Cuomo and the legislature did insert a break into the minim wage schedule after five years, to determine whether the economy can support the phased in minimum age increase. It’s conceivable that Cuomo, if he is still governor by then, could determine that the other upstate workers should also receive $15 an hour, just like their fast food counterparts. 

And, according to Cuomo’s budget division spokesman, Morris Peters, under the new law, the governor’s labor has the power to revisit the decisions of past wage boards, and can make “adjustments."

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.