By Kelsey Durham
As the City Council begins to consider a minimum wage increase that would potentially bump hourly pay up to at least $15 an hour citywide, one councilman from eastern Queens has raised concerns about the negative side effects it could have on his district.
Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) is hoping to bring attention to the impact that the pay increase would have on businesses in his 23rd District, which borders Nassau County, if legislation were to pass requiring owners to nearly double wages for employees.
Weprin — who represents Little Neck, Oakland Gardens, Glen Oaks, Douglaston, Queens Village, Bellerose, Floral Park and Hollis Hills — said he worries that if the minimum wage increase were to affect the city only, businesses in Queens would suffer from competition in neighboring Long Island, where owners would have higher profits stemming from smaller labor costs.
“I’ve always been a big supporter of raising minimum wage and I think workers are working for way less than what they should be,” Weprin said. “But that being said, I think there are some risks for raising it just in New York City, especially as high as the $15 an hour that’s proposed while the rest of the state stays at $8.”
The idea for a citywide minimum wage increase was introduced earlier this month when Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan) announced her interest in raising the rate to what she called “well above $10 an hour,” a figure that has been discussed nationally by federal leaders.
Mark-Viverito said in comments last week that she would be more comfortable with a rate in the range of $13 to $15 an hour and said she was ready to begin hearings on the idea, though they have not yet been scheduled.
Weprin said that while he supports a minimum wage increase, he thinks a statewide raise would have fewer consequences on the border neighborhoods in Queens, which he said would level the playing field between businesses in Queens and those they compete with on Long Island.
He said he worries that a New York City minimum wage that is nearly twice the rate of the rest of the state would be “extremely detrimental” to business owners in Queens and will deter future entrepreneurs from wanting to start a business in the borough rather than traveling the short distance across the border into Nassau.
“Why open an ice cream shop in Queens when you could go 1,000 feet and open one in Long Island and pay a lower salary?” he asked. “Most of the businesses on our border operate on a very small profit margin, and if they’re making money, they’re just barely doing it. The money for a pay increase has to come from somewhere and most businesses can’t afford that.”
Weprin added that he would like to see the state as a whole raise its minimum wage and hopefully others will follow suit. He said he has spoken with some business owners and community members in his district who share his concerns and said he hopes the Council will be cautious in deciding how to approach a minimum wage increase in order to avoid hurting businesses in the process.
“I represent Queens County, so my concern is Queens,” he said. “We can’t do this haphazardly because it will end up costing people jobs.”
Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at [email protected].