New York becomes first state in US to mandate $15 wage for fast food workers

© Carlo Allegri
New York will raise the minimum wage for fast food workers to $15 per hour, marking the first time any US state has agreed to raise the industry’s wages that high. The governor said he will try to increase the minimum wage for all workers next.

Fast food workers’ wages will reach a minimum of $15 an hour by 2018 in New York City, while they will have to wait until 2021 in the rest of the state. Notably, the move did not require action by state lawmakers because the issue fell under the jurisdiction of the State Labor Commission, which approved the proposal on Thursday.

Once the wage increase kicks in, it could affect approximately 200,000 fast food workers in the state.

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Speaking at a New York City event with Vice President Joe Biden at his side, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo turned attention to raising wages outside of the fast food industry. He pledged to work towards a $15 minimum wage for all workers across the state. Currently, New York’s minimum wage of $8.75 is set to hit $9 per hour by the end of the year.

“If you work full time, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty—plain and simple,” Cuomo said, according to the Wall Street Journal. “The truth is, it’s wrong to have an economy where the rich get richer while the poor get poorer, where the American dream of mobility and opportunity has become more of a cruel myth.”

Despite the Labor Board’s decision and Cuomo’s stated push for higher worker pay, raising the minimum wage statewide in New York will be a difficult task. The state Senate is currently controlled by Republicans who have opposed the measure in the past and already blocked previous proposals seeking even smaller hikes.

Moreover, restaurant owners and fast food companies may file a lawsuit against the mandated raise. Opponents have often argued that the increased labor costs would hurt businesses and lead them to terminate positions.

“We are disappointed with the decision today to sign off on a recommendation from a wage board that was created to target a single industry and will cause a host of negative unintended consequences,” said Melissa Fleischut, president and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association, to CNN Money.

Supporters, however, have continued to push for more raises across the US, arguing that wages have failed to keep up with the rising cost of living.

Cities and counties such as Los Angeles and Seattle have successfully passed laws that will raise wages, but New York is the first state to do so.

On Thursday, Vice President Biden welcomed the fast food wage increase.

“You’re going to make every single governor in every single state in America look at themselves,” Biden said. “It’s going to have a profound impact.”

On the federal level, the Obama administration has backed efforts to boost the federal minimum wage to $12 per hour, but that push has been stymied by Republicans in Congress.