Statewide minimum wage increase considered

By Madina Toure

Queens workers, employers and elected officials have mixed reactions to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to increase the statewide minimum wage to $15 an hour for all workers.

The increase would be phased in like the wage increase proposed for fast-food workers in stages, going into effect by Dec. 31, 2018 in New York City and July 1, 2021 for the rest of the state.

Cuomo, along with Vice President Joe Biden, made the announcement Sept. 10. That same day, Acting State Labor Commissioner Mario Musolino signed an order designating a $15-an-hour statewide minimum wage for fast-food workers.

Woodhaven resident Diane Sprague, 18, who works as a secretary for the Rumba Salon at 76-07 Roosevelt Ave. in Jackson Heights, said that the proposal is a good start, but that it is not enough. She believes a $15 minimum wage is not enough money for workers to survive, questioning if individuals working at the White House would be able to get by with such a salary.

“My sister works for a union and she has $30 every hour,” Sprague said.

A Flushing variety store owner said the increase would pose a challenge to business owners.

“Every business is going down right now and the minimum wage is going up,” he said. “For the business owners, that’s a lot of expenses. If the wage goes up, they’re going to cut the employees.”

State Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows) sponsored the Fair Wages Act, which calls for a $15 minimum wage for employees who work in big-box stores.

She previously called the fast-food worker wage increase proposal a good first step but said all workers deserved it.

“New York families should not have to make a choice between housing, food or health care,” Rozic said in a statement.

Speaking alongside more than 1,200 workers, community members and advocates at the Javits Center in Manhattan, Cuomo said the new wage would restore hope and opportunity for all workers.

“If you work full time, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty—plain and simple,” Cuomo said. “Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour will add fairness to our economy and bring dignity and respect to 2.2 million people, many of whom have been forced to live in poverty for too long.”

State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) said Senate Democrats were pushing for a similar initiative several months ago, but Cuomo “thought it was a non-starter” for political reasons.

He said it will be difficult to push the proposal forward due to Senate Republicans but that Cuomo has been successful on other issues such as marriage equality and gun control.

“It’s going to increase their purchasing power and it’s going to relieve that pressure that many of my constituents have,” Peralta said.

Whitestone resident Porfirio Zuniga, 40, who runs a food cart near Main Street and 39th Avenue, commended the proposal.

“It’s good because the rent, the bills, with the minimum wage, it’s not enough,” Zuniga said.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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