New York State set to raise fast food minimum wage to $15 per hour

fast food wage increase schedule chart

The state Fast Food Wage Board has recommended that the minimum wage for fast food employees across New York State rise to $15 per hour -- eventually.

The board's recommendation, which now heads to the state labor commissioner before it can take effect, lays out two tracks for increasing the industry's minimum wage, for New York City and areas outside the city:


Board members said the two tracks were the result of research that indicated the fast food industry was growing faster in New York City compared to the rest of the state, and that fast food outlets in the city had higher volumes than elsewhere in the state.

The state's general minimum wage is currently $8.75 per hour and is set to increase to $9 on December 31 of this year.

The board included Buffalo mayor Byron Brown, SEIU secretary treasurer Mike Fishman, and Kevin Ryan, the founder and chair of the GILT shopping site. Their recommendation for an increase isn't a surprise -- at a public board meeting last month, all three members commented on the stories they'd heard from fast food employees about how hard it is to make ends meet, and they indicated a recommendation for a substantial increase was on the way.

Ryan said the board's wasn't recommending an immediate increase to $15 per hour out of recognition of industry concerns about the wage increase. "We felt that businesses needed to digest this increase, which is going to be very substantial, over the next several years and be able to plan for it and digest that in an orderly manner. And we think they can."

For the purposes of the increase, the board's definition of a "fast food" outlet includes chains with 30 or more locations nationwide at which customers pay before eating and there's limited service. Fast food employees are any workers that perform a range of jobs at the establishment -- from customer service to food prep to cooking to delivery to routine maintenance and cleaning.

Representatives of the restaurant industry in New York have been critical of the wage board. And the NYS Restaurant Association's reaction today was no different -- it released a statement from its president and CEO, Melissa Fleischut:

"From day one Governor Cuomo's wage board has sought to silence the business community and force through an unfair and discriminatory increase on a single sector of one industry. From stacking the board with supporters of an increase to allowing business owners to get booed and heckled at public hearings the Governor has rigged the game at every turn. Since the Governor used a process that rejects compromise the result is an extremist policy that will force business owners in this low profit margin industry to cut hours, lay off employees and use technology to help offset skyrocketing labor costs."

The recommended increase to $15 per hour comes in the context of (at least) two important storylines. First and foremost are the "Fight for 15" rallies organized by labor unions and workers around the country. And cities such as Los Angeles have moved to increase their minimum wage sto $15 per hour by 2020. [NYT]

Another important context for the recommendation: Andrew Cuomo's floated plan to increaese the state's minimum wage to $10.50 per hour statewide and $11.50 per hour in New York City. That plan stalled in the legislature. And Cuomo then directed the state Department of Labor to empanel the fast food wage board.

nys minimum wage history cropped
A minimum wage consistent across many industries in New York State dates back to 1962. Here's how it's increased over time, with a comparison in 2015 dollars for some perspective. (Inflation calculations via the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics calculator.)

So, if the increase goes through -- and there's no reason to think it won't, considering all this was set in motion by Andrew Cuomo -- it sets up a situation that's probably headed for further change. Because there will potentially be a significant gap in the minimum wage between the fast food industry and other businesses in the state. And the contrast will be especially stark within the broader restaurant industry. Just looking at federal wage data for the Capital Region, in May of 2014, the median hourly wage for fast food cooks was $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.

So it will be interesting to see how this all plays out. The board's recommendation will be published on the state Department of Labor's website, after which there will be 15-day public comment period. The state's labor commissioner -- currently it's acting commissioner Mario Musolino -- has 45 days to issue an order based on the recommendation.

Earlier on AOA:
+ New York closer to $15/hour for fast food workers?
+ A few ways of thinking about the minimum wage


I am all for raising minimum wage, but don't understand why different industries should have different minimum wages. Why is this less politically difficult to get through than an overall minimum wage increase?

What about non fast food workers, are they not important also?

Good to know that I could give up my professional, college-degree-requiring job and flip burgers for almost the same amount of money. Ridiculous.

I'm so glad I went through 4 years of college, thousands of dollars in debt to get a job that required 1-2 years of experience, only to earn less than a job where you barely need a GED.
Guess that means we all can start expecting better service next time we go to McDonalds! At least they still don't have paid sick days!

Amen Sarah. Think of all the low paying jobs that provide no semblance of a livable wage. Why are they less important than the folks slinging burgers? It's classic Cuomo, forcing his way by using a bomb with a very long fuse. When it detonates, he will be long gone to take the impact. He only takes the credit in the here and now. All low wage positions need to be reevaluated. So many of these were school kid / vacation / seasonal jobs in the past, but with low educated and immigrant work forces taking on these tasks as full time, the question that needs debate is whether the industry needs to pay a higher wage for positions that are not defined as full time or should the positions not be allowed to be a "career". $15/hour without health benefits and sick time / vacation is still not a permanent job. Perhaps the industries that use this type of labor should not exist - low margin struggles year after year contingent upon a cheap work force. Capitalism, yes, but a hollow definition of the paradigm.

"Good to know that I could give up my professional, college-degree-requiring job and flip burgers for almost the same amount of money."

Who's stopping you?

@ KB & Karner: This is why we can't have nice things. You're playing right into the hands of those that do not want to see wages increase. It's the old divide and conquer.

Please do not forsake the gains made by others because there isn't anything directly in it for you. The treatment and wages of these employees is appalling and we should all want to see their lot improve - regardless of whether or not we see an increase to our bottom line.

I'd also expect that if we raise wages in this one industry, it will cause others to raise wages in order to be able to compete for employees.

Karner - If what you say is true, can I expect to see you working at McDonald's once the wages go up? My guess is no. You made your school and career choices because it was your preference and you probably did not want to work in a fast food restaurant.

Wow. People's comments are seriously offensive. Guess what - fast food jobs, service jobs, baristas, etc. these jobs all need to be done and people working for a living doing them deserve to be paid enough to pay for housing, food, clothing, utilities, education, and savings. Seriously. You want to complain about people making a living wage because you went to college and they didn't? Why are the poor always vilified? Why not be angry with corporations making billions of dollars in profit while paying people slave wages that require use of the social safety net (food stamps, medicaid, welfare, etc.)? Why not be angry with the corporations under paying you when you are college educated and clearly feel you deserve more. It's absolutely disgusting that people will complain about working people actually wanting to earn a living wage yet they say nothing about CEOs making THOUSANDS of dollars an hour and corporations paying NOTHING in taxes while raking in BILLIONS OF PROFITS on the backs of people making slave wages AND all of the taxpayer dollars need to make up the difference. I have a college degree. I paid $90K to go to Syracuse University in the early '90s. I had to work jobs that REQUIRED me to have a degree, yet paid minimum wage. It's total BS. It's time for the working people in this country to rise up and fight against unmitigated greed and profit by corporations at the expense of PEOPLE. Every single person complaining about working people earning a living wage needs to take a serious look in the mirror and realize you are part of the problem. Signed, thoroughly disgusted with the human race, especially the self-absorbed, self-righteous, hate filled people in this country who only care if they get theirs and screw the rest.

Bravo, Xina!

"At least they still don't have paid sick days!"

Really? That is seriously offensive. Why on earth do you think someone deserves paid sick days and someone else doesn't? Based solely on the fact that these people are handling food, you should want them to be able to choose to stay home if they don't feel well, without worrying about how it will affect their wages.

There sure is a lot of bitterness in some of these comments. Anyone who gets up and goes to work every day deserves to earn a sustainable living. Seriously people I sure hope that by 2021 we will all be earning more than we are today...

I am retired and live on Social Security. Surely the prices are going to increase. I should receive the same increase to my Social Security as the Board is giving to Fast Food workers. So do the other 59 million who live on this fixed income. I also question do they have authority to decide how much each industry should be paid? Can they put this into law without approval by the Legislator?

bubba, this is the information you're looking for. Price increases will be indirectly reflected in the CPI-W and thus your annual COLA. This isn't to say that the COLA is necessarily fairly arrived at but that's a different issue that should be addressed, albeit elsewhere.

To people wondering why this only affects fast food workers, can you entertain the thought that this is a "foot-in-the-door"? These workers went on strike and did a good job publicizing their cause. They are a large number of workers that do similar jobs across the state. It was easy to organize.
Of course this wage increase will put pressure on other industries to match. Who will work at the Gap when you can go to McDonald's and make nearly twice as much? In this case, a rising tide will likely lift all boats.
If you got a college degree and are making ~$15/hr, you should be angry. At your employer. Strike like these brave people did and get the pay you deserve. We all deserve better.

my bad, I worded that wrong.
What I meant was that even though they will be getting $15 an hour they still won't be provided with paid sick days.

"If you got a college degree and are making ~$15/hr, you should be angry. At your employer. Strike like these brave people did and get the pay you deserve."

It's not uncommon for a recent college grad to get ~$15/hour at an entry level job. Granted that's starting salary, but how is that going to motivate someone looking at the option of going $80k+ in debt straight out of high school? And maybe you've been in a unionized workforce too long, but striking is not usually an option, especially for an employee new to the workforce...

I just don't see how it makes sense to apply such a drastic raise in minimum wage to such a small sliver of the minimum-wage-earning workforce without correcting it across the board. Who is going to work at Jumpin' Jacks when they can make 70% more working for McDonalds? Won't this be extremely detrimental to small businesses (with minimum-wage earning staff) instead of gradually raising the national minimum wage as we've done in the past?

(note, I have no idea how much Jumpin' Jacks pays, just using them as an example)

@ Paul - Don't you think Jumpin' Jacks (Not because they do this, but only to follow your example) would be wise to also raise their wages in kind?

I think that's the point. The old "foot-in-the-door" as Sean mentioned above. I don't think a universal, national wage hike would get through our Congress. This small win, however, might lead to more change.

There is always a law of unintended consequences that may come into play. How many of those $15/hour jobs would be eliminated by the time the new rate is in effect?
Electronic ordering from in-store tablets is slowly coming in. (same happened with online/kiosk flight check-in, store self-checkout, ticket machines in cinemas etc). I suspect we'll see that rushed in into every fast-food place by the end of the year (along with 10% surcharge for cashier entered order).
And if it is possible to fly a drone across the ocean - would it be possible to assemble burgers in the same way? We'll see...

I'm not sure how this will stand, applied only to fast food chains. I can see a mountain of equal protection lawsuits coming the states way...

I also pretty much see this as a win/win for the state, increasing tax revenue, and possibly removing a fair number of people above the federal poverty lines, decreasing spending on SNAP and other assistance programs...Think of it as the Mcdonalds tax...

How many of those $15/hour jobs would be eliminated by the time the new rate is in effect? Electronic ordering from in-store tablets is slowly coming in.

If it's feasible, this will happen as soon as roboclerks are cheaper than humans. The premise is that they aren't at $8/hr but would be at $15. Let's say we believe that; if there were no wage increase, how long would it take for costs to drop below $8 anyway? Then there's the issue of customer acceptance. We already have roboclerks in grocery stores, Home Depot, etc. Who actually prefers them? Have they largely replaced human cashiers? The whole job elimination argument needs some more thought.

I also pretty much see this as a win/win for the state, increasing tax revenue, and possibly removing a fair number of people above the federal poverty lines, decreasing spending on SNAP and other assistance programs

This is kind of the point. We the taxpayers are currently subsidizing the pay of a wide swath of minimum wage employees. We have a large, complex problem that minimum wage is only a part of.

Imho, the selective wage increase is another political orchestration being played out by Kuomo. People who care about this subject are being used as his political football. Its not going to be implemented because of lawsuits (which Kuomo already knows) and he will eventually submit a revised plan that would include most all industries. My guess is to $15 in NYC by 2020 and other areas to $13 by 2019.

In reality the minimum wage is the max wage. Govt. in control. No new opportunity being created for workers save a few. Businesses will pass it on. Get ready for centrally prepared food trucked to restaurants. Just like Dunkin Donuts in many locations...centrally prepared en masse and delivered. Just as good.

Open your eyes Xina (and friends). First of all, service jobs like fast food restaurants were not meant to be careers or to be the sole support of a family. There are enough opportunities in this country for anyone to get an education / training to better themselves. This is especially true for low income earners who have all kinds of aid and programs to move up the economic ladder. Second, don't you realize that if you pay a food service worker $15 an hour that the business will only raise prices which will affect all of us, more so the low wage earner. And finally, this is AMERICA. Those who succeed and earns lots of money should not be vilified they should be admired. Maybe the so called "have-nots" should spend less time complaining about what they don't have and spend more time in figuring out how to get what they want out of life.

The conservatives will lament this as big government usurping the power of the people. Liberals will see this as big business not fulfilling their duty to provide jobs that pay a meaningful wage. At the end of the day, those scrambling to get out of poverty and those fighting to stay in the middle class will continue to inflict friendly fire on each other, easily distracted by Kuomo's ploy (with big business's help, by throwing the food services industry under the bus, and protecting the rest of the industries from this new payment scheme) rather than focus on tne central issue: why isn't government and big business working together to mutually create well paying jobs.

The fact that 50% of workers make $28k or less is nothing short of an embarrassment, which essentially means that 50% of jobs pay less than $15, and that 50% of American's, despite their college degrees, their hard work and their aspirations, will continue to be stuck in a system that prevents them from entering the middle class because only 50% of us can making it past the $28k goal line.

Conservatives and middle class American's who are prejudiced against low skill workers can continue to throw hate on those making the minimum wage, but the undeniable fact is that 50% of jobs pay squat, the business community isn't doing anything to make it better, government is either too lazy, too uninformed, or too obstructionists to foster the right environment for well paying jobs, and we're all caught in between labeling all fast food workers as idiot scum not worthy of a meaningful wage, because you know, they should be working harder, longer, better and just maybe they can get past that increasingly more distant $28k goal post.

Ah, American exceptionalism at its best :)

Not sure what I am missing here? Where did the number $15 dollars per hour come from? Where is the data to back this up? Did someone working flipping burgers say..."oh man I deserve $15.00 an hour because I just saw the franchise owners new Lexus and I want one too". In Germany, a very socialist and PRODUCTIVE state, the new recent wage was set at 8.50 Euro per hour, which maybe around $9.00 per hour depending on exchange rate. What makes American workers feel that they are worth $15.00 per hour to do menial work when in other areas of the world they get $15.00 per month for the same job. Where does it state that ALL AMERICANS can get enough money to buy a car, a cell phone, air conditioning, washer dryer, and on and on ad nauseum, where in other places of the world they can't get a loaf of bread? Welcome to the future my friends of a flat world...where the wealth is not only being spread within countries but also between countries. Maybe Americans will have to do what others have done for eons...move-immigrate to where the better paying jobs are! Sad state of affairs in America today indeed...Damn that George Bush!!!!

>Get ready for centrally prepared food trucked to restaurants. Just like Dunkin Donuts in many locations...centrally prepared en masse and delivered. Just as good.

It's already there in many many sit-down chains including some fancy restaurants. If Gordon Ramsay does it why not others?

another lame New York idea

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