ITHACA, N.Y. — Mayor Svante Myrick says he welcomes a decision today that will raise the minimum wage for New York state’s fast food workers to $15 an hour over the next several years.
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“I think it’s great news,” he said in an interview on Wednesday. “It’s obviously great news for the workers, who will see a higher standard of living and a higher quality of life — but it’s great news for everyone else, too.”
Myrick gave a few principal reasons the benefits of the fast food wage hike — which have been criticized by many business leaders and some economists — would extend beyond the workers themselves:
1) Bargaining power for low-wage workers: Myrick says he acknowledges that there will be frustration from those wondering why other low-wage workers won’t see similar increases.
But, he says of these workers outside the fast food industry, “you have been handed a powerful bargaining chip and a powerful tool you can use to ask your employer and New York State to raise your wage.”
2) Decreased state expenses: Ithaca’s mayor said that taxpayers will no longer have to spend as much on government benefits— like food stamps and healthcare — for fast food workers once those workers can afford these expenditures as a result of the higher minimum wage.
3) More cash for the local economy: Myrick pointed to economic research indicating that low-wage workers tend to spend their money more quickly than high-wage workers. “It’s pretty clear when you give more money to the people who have the least, they spend it right away,” he said.
With hundreds of low-wage Ithacans slated for wage increases, he says, more money will go to local businesses in the Ithaca area.
Still, some economists, lawmakers and other industry experts have argued that the higher minimum wage will force businesses to lay off workers and unfairly hurt business owners.
Others have criticized Gov. Andrew Cuomo for circumventing the NY legislature and wondered why the fast food industry was singled out for the wage increase.
“Singling out a sector of one industry to have a higher minimum wage than all other occupations is unfair and arbitrary. The minimum wage is rightfully set by the Legislature and should affect all businesses equally,” Melissa Fleischut, president and chief executive of the New York State Restaurant Association, told The New York Times.
Syracuse.com’s Marnie Eisenstadt compiled some of the objections to the wage hike. Among them were those of local business owners who predict the wage hike could force them to shutter several of their restaurants:
Dan Soules’ Auburn-based company, Grant Avenue Development, has 43 chain restaurants: Arby’s, Dominoes and Tim Horton’s. He will close nine restaurants, he said, and lay off 180 people if New York’s wage goes through as it’s being discussed.
Soules said the average wage of his employees is above the minimum wage, but, at $10.70 an hour, not close to the $15 that will be demanded. Many of his employees are first-time job holders. He considers his entry-level jobs a training ground for the rest of the labor market; not a stopping place.
“We hire people who have never held a mop, never worn a nametag and never punched a clock,” Soules said.
Myrick, leading labor advocates and other economists, however, say these arguments ignore the unique nature of and imbalance in the fast food industry.
” There has to be a balance and too long this has been out of balance,” Myrick said of the fast food industry.
“The CEO of McDonalds is making $8 million a year … while (the company) keeps workers in poverty. I’m known for being pro-growth and pro-business, but I believe even as you grow you have to take care of your workers.”
Myrick added that he was mostly unconcerned by fears that the wage hike will lead to greater automation and, in turn, greater unemployment.
“The fast food industry already is a very globalized, industrialized and automated industry,” he said. “It’s not as if McDonalds had a way to make these burgers with fewer workers and was holding back on innovation of the kindness of their hearts.”
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