This morning marked the second of four hearings conducted by Governor Cuomo's Fast Food Wage Board—instated in May, the board's purpose is to study the fast food industry in New York State, and determine what, exactly, constitutes a living wage.
Cuomo's decision follows on the heels of large-scale protests across the country to demand a $15 minimum wage, including a march through Manhattan in April that drew an estimated 15,000 workers.
Today's hearing, which took place at NYU, featured a number of high-profile testimonials. De Blasio outlined his main arguments in favor of a $15 minimum wage. "It's an issue of basic fairness," he wrote. "Too many glibly dismiss the minimum wage as an issue affecting only young people—as though high schoolers working summer jobs fill every minimum wage position."
A recent report from the National Employment Law Project found that about half of workers making less than $15 per hour are at least 35 years old.
De Blasio also made an appeal to fiscal conservatives, arguing that the current minimum wage forces New Yorkers to turn to welfare. "Here’s an easy way to remedy that problem: make sure workers get the wages they deserve," he wrote. State labor commissioner Mario Musolino says that 75% of fast food workers in New York earn $9.25 or less, and 60% of them are enrolled in at least one public assistance program.
Nick Hanauer, a venture capitalist from Seattle whose bylines include "The Capitalist’s Case for a $15 Minimum Wage," also appealed to the monied living wage skeptics. "The fundamental law of capitalism is: when workers have more money, businesses have more customers, and need to hire more workers," he said. "In places where wages are high, business is good, particularly for restaurants."
Many critics question Cuomo's decision to instate a board that singles out one group of minimum wage earners—fast food workers specifically—when an estimated 1.5 million city workers don't make a livable wage. De Blasio wrote in his testimonial, "As much as fast food workers deserve a raise—and they do—we’d be remiss to only focus our attention on this one sector of our economy. We all must do more to ensure that every worker gets a living wage."
Amanda Cohen, responsible for the badass veggies at Dirt Candy on the Lower East Side, definitely doesn't run a fast-food operation, but she testified, "I can’t remember the last time I hired someone who wasn’t commuting from far out in Brooklyn or Queens. This means that every young chef is spending unpaid hours every day commuting to and from his or her job." Cohen, who eliminated tipping at her restaurant and manages to pay all of her employees between $15-25 per hour, warned the board that all restaurant workers need a living wage, but that small restaurants will need "legal and logistical support" to swing the transition.
The Wage Board is expected to make its recommendation in July. Cuomo will then have the authority to enact the Board's suggestion without first going through the state legislature—a boon for the governor who failed to raise the minimum wage to $11.50 in New York City, and $10.50 in the rest of the state, earlier this year.