New York closer to $15/hour for fast food workers?

state fast food wage board screengrab

Buffalo mayor Byron Brown, chair of the fast food wage board, at Monday's meeting. / screengrab: NYS DOL livestream

At its last scheduled public meeting Monday the state's Fast Food Wage Board didn't recommend a specific increase in the minimum wage for fast food workers in the state -- but its members' comments pointed toward them eventually recommending a significantly higher rate.

"There's no question in mind that we need a very substantial increase in the minimum wage," board member Kevin Ryan, the chairman and founder of the online shopping site Gilt, said.

"When you look at the industry as a whole in this state, we really should be looking at one wage rate for the state, and that should be $15 and that should be as soon as possible," said board member Mike Fishman, the secretary treasurer of Service Employees International Union.

The fast food wage board was empaneled by the state Department of Labor at Andrew Cuomo's direction in May to consider raising the minimum wage in the industry. The Cuomo admin says the board's recommendation can be enacted without legislation.

Of course, this is all happening in the context of the nationwide push by labor groups for a higher minimum wage, especially the "Fight for 15" rallies. In May the Los Angeles city council voted to increase its minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020. And Seattle's minimum wage is on a similar course, which has prompted restaurants there to adjust, in part by raising prices. [NYT] [NPR]

Board chair Byron Brown, who's the mayor of Buffalo, noted one of the "thorny issues" facing the board is deciding which sorts of businesses qualify as fast food. It sounded like the board is still working out the details on that topic, but it's headed toward focusing on chains with multiple locations that don't include table service.

"All of us were struck by how difficult it is for the average line worker to get reliably 40 hours a week on a set schedule to each work each and every week," said Brown. "So hours are another thing we are concerned about. From hearing so many workers talk about how some weeks it might be 30 hours, the next week it might be 10 hours. That makes it very difficult for someone to support them self, to support their family, and to reliably pay your bills."

Another prominent angle that surfaced during Monday's meeting: issue of consistent hours.

"All of us were struck by how difficult it is for the average line worker to get reliably 40 hours a week on a set schedule to each work each and every week," said Brown. "So hours are another thing we are concerned about. From hearing so many workers talk about how some weeks it might be 30 hours, the next week it might be 10 hours. That makes it very difficult for someone to support them self, to support their family, and to reliably pay your bills."

In response to the that issue, board members discussed the possibility of looking at some sort of way to incentivize fast food restaurants giving people more consistent hours at some level over 30 hours a week.

The board also touched on comparisons between fast food restaurants and sit-down restaurants -- in part because wages in comparative industries are one of the considerations the board is supposed to make in deciding its recommendation. Fishman said he didn't believe there was a direct comparison because the volume at fast food outlets is so much higher.

But looking at federal wage data for restaurant employees in the Capital Region highlights the complications in raising the minimum wage for one set of workers -- and how you define that set of workers. In May of 2014, the median hourly wage for fast food cooks $9.25. For cooks in the general "restaurant" category it was $11.48, and for "short order" cooks it was $12.91. If fast food cooks get a state-ordered raise to $15, it'd be hard to argue that those other categories of cooks aren't doing similar work that should also qualify.

As mentioned, the board didn't make a final recommendation Monday. (The Cuomo has said previously it expects the recommendation in July.)

Said Brown: "I think we need to have more discussion and deliberation, but I think we have good framework now for where we want to be and where we need to be in terms of making a recommendation."

The New York State Restaurant Association has been critical of the wage board, calling it "a foregone conclusion." It released a statement from its president, Melissa Fleischut, earlier this month: "None of the Governor's handpicked wage board members have meaningful experience in the restaurant industry and all support increasing the minimum wage. It's clear the restaurant industry does not have a voice at the table when making this decision."

Furthermore: Over at the Times Union back in March, Steve Barnes looked at how New York's increase in the minimum wage for tipped employees would affect restaurants -- and their non-tipped employees. [TU]

Earlier on AOA: A few ways of thinking about the minimum wage


"Board members discussed the possibility of looking at some sort of way to incentivize fast food restaurants giving people more consistent hours at some level over 30 hours a week."

It's sad that the Board's only thought as to how the government can help ensure businesses treat their employees ethically is to "incentivize" decent behavior. Taxpayers have to pay businesses to treat their employees with respect and dignity?

"All of us were struck by how difficult it is for the average line worker to get reliably 40 hours a week on a set schedule to work each and every week,"

It's almost like employers are responding to the ridiculously costly statutory and regulatory requirements that come with full time employment in this state! I wonder if we add additional costs to these workers what the consequence will be! I'm sure nothing but good things.

These employers may increase automation or restrict hours so that they're no longer open during times when they're marginally profitable. There's no way this works out well in the end.

I find it astonishing that we have singled out fast food workers for a wage increase and have left out everyone else.

Forget $15 bucks per hour let's make it $100 and time and a half for over time! Soon EVERYONE will be rich.....come to think about it if we could all get iphones, TV's, and cars the we'd all be set. Wait let's throw in a house too!!! Maybe after we Americans get rich we can then go to the third world and decree that they too need a living wage....let's make it $50 per hour because we don't want them to get too rich like us! Listening to all this makes me feel like I am from Mars! Everyone in America that wants $15 per hour at a minimum should be forced to take an economics class or two.PS what is the science behind $15 per hour? What body orifice was this number pulled from? What studies show making $15 an hour in NYC is the same as Mobile Alabama or Calcutta for that matter. We don't just get to pick a number!!!!!

In response to Jay's comment -- NYS taxpayers are currently supplementing the fast food industry. NY ranks first in public assistance spending per fast food worker annually at $6,800, costing New York taxpayers $700 million a year in public assistance to cover the cost of fast food companies paying poverty level wages.

Income inequality is the moral, ethical and policy issue of our time. Profits do not get to the working people who produce them.
- The fast food industry took in $551 billion in global revenues in 2014.
- The average fast-food CEO made $23.8 million in 2013, more than 1400 times what the average worker received.
- CEO pay has risen 725% over the last 30 years, while average wages for workers have been flat.
- If economic progress had been shared fairly with workers, the minimum wage now would be over $18 an hour.

The fast food industry *can afford to raise wages - Australia set the minimum wage for adult fast-food workers at $16 an hour, but a Big Mac in Australia costs only $4.32 on average, compared with $4.79 in the United States, according to The Economist’s Big Mac Index.

Do I think all minimum wage workers need and deserve a raise? Absolutely. But the Republican Senate has refused to take up the issue... the way I look at it, raising the wage for fast food workers is a necessary first step to raising the wage for all low wage workers.

My daughter, with a 4-year degree in human services, just landed a job working with pregnant teenagers to help them learn how to make better choices so they won't land up stuck in minimum wage hell .....she makes $15/hour. How is she supposed to encourage higher education, better choices, etc. when her clients can go flip hamburgers for the same amount of money?

If I can make $15 for a menial job, or $15 for a job that requires actual skill... why would anyone bother going to college? Won't we face a lack of people to do highly skilled jobs, if they won't get paid any more than minimum wage?

@Leah Golby - You missed my point, but perhaps I wasn't as clear as I could have been.

I agree wages need to be increased and employees should be able to rely on consistent schedules. I just don't understand why government has to incentivize this, as opposed to simply requiring it. As you point out, the fast food industry is flush with cash and has little problem generously compensating their executives. I think it reasonable to ask that they pay their lowest-earning employees fairly WITHOUT the government having to chip in and make it more palatable to their bottom line.

@KB - Pay is actually very low on the list when it comes to factors that affect job satisfaction. It is simply a myth that people only work at jobs that maximize their earning potential. Many people simply find a job that pays them adequately enough to live the lifestyle they choose. Others take jobs that align with a passion or interest they may have - e.g., school teachers, social workers, professors, etc. Pay is not the only factor.

Also, two questions about your comment on college: 1) Should everyone be going to college? 2) Is the value of college only to be measured by the job one receives as a result of graduation?

"PS what is the science behind $15 per hour"

Cost of living, for starters, such as what is costs to have a place to live; basic necessities, such as food, clothing, and maybe a bus pass to go to work; the government's own calculation of cost-of-living, based on a "basket of goods." I find it amazing that people are so concerned about an increase in the hourly wage of our poorest workers, and don't take into consideration, as Leah points out, the profits of large corporations, the absurdity of the salaries of CEOs and other executives, the tax evasion, both legal and illegal, perpetrated by those companies, and the very high cost, both social and economic, of assisting people who earn very low wages, and for whom we have to supply supplemental income (EITC), food stamps, healthcare, etc. @ Quack: it is precisely because the minimum wage is depressed that your daughter, with a four year degree, is earning $15/hour. We are currently indirectly subsidizing the businesses of large corporations at the tune of billions of dollars. Yes, for WalMart to pay low wages, not provide any sort of job security or benefits, we, as a nation, have to subsidize WalMart's workers with additional income and other needs. What's so hard to understand? I took 18 credits in economics and never saw any evidence that an increase in MW affects economic growth. One would have to pick and choose models from Econ101 to come up with that. But Econ101 is an introduction, not real economics.

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