Fast Food Workers in NY Just Had Their Lives Change

July 22nd 2015

Sarah Gray

The Fight for $15 had a big victory in New York on Wednesday.

The Wage Board, commissioned by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this year, recommended that the minimum wage for the state's fast-food workers increase to $15 per hour. The Board said that it should increase to $15 for New York City fast-food workers by 2018 and for the rest of the state by 2021. The federal minimum wage, which applies to all workers, is currently $7.25 per hour, and in New York, the minimum wage is $8.75 per hour. (It will increase to $9 per hour on December 31, 2015.)

The recommendation now goes to the state's Department of Labor, which is expected to ratify the recommendation into law.

In May, Cuomo announced the convening of the Wage Board—a board that has the power to recommend industry-specific wage raises without legislative action—to lift the wages of fast-food workers. In conjunction with this announcement, Cuomo wrote an op-ed for the New York Times decrying the reality that fast food conglomerates, such as McDonald's and Burger King, bring in high profits while their employees are simultaneously drawing on public aid programs to make ends meet. Many workers rely on public assistance including food stamps (SNAP), Medicaid, and other services. New York state is number one in the amount of public assistance given to fast food workers—$700 million according to Cuomo. Nationwide, a 2013 report from the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California, Berkeley found that taxpayers pay $7 billion in government assistance—in effect subsidizing low wages paid by corporate giants.

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The Wage Board held several public hearings over the course of the last several months. At one such hearing in New York City back in June, the three members of the board heard testimony from fast-food workers struggling to live off such low wages.

“The Wage Board has the power to do what McDonald's hasn’t been willing to do on their own: ensure I’m paid enough so I don’t have to rely on food stamps or Medicaid,” Jorel Ware, a McDonald's worker, said in a statement released back in June. “With the little we make right now, there’s just no other way to make ends meet. Fifteen dollars an hour will mean we can get off public assistance and stand on our own two feet."

Many expected the three-member Wage Board—Byron Brown, mayor of Buffalo, Mike Fishman, the secretary-treasurer of Service Employees International Union, and Kevin Ryan, the founder and chairman of GILT—to raise wages for fast-food workers. "The three members on the board are in agreement that there should be a substantial increase," Byron told back in June.

It was unclear, however, what the final plan was until Wednesday when the board members released their final plan. There are around 180,000 fast-food workers in New York state.

The Fight for $15 movement has been working to raise wages for those in industries like fast food and home healthcare. On April 15, 2015 they held a national day of action, which ATTN: covered extensively. They have had victories in major cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Learn more about the minimum wage and the myths surrounding it below:

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