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Politics and Government

Fast food workers upstate could make more than other minimum wage workers by the early 2020s

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A quirk in the newly-enacted minimum wage increase could mean that in upstate New York by the early 2020s, fast food workers could be paid significantly more than other low wage jobs, like home health care workers or grocery store cashiers.

In the state budget, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislature approved a multi-step plan to increase the minimum wage to $15 in New York City and its suburbs, and to $12.50 in the next five years for the rest of the state.

But more than six months before lawmakers acted, Cuomo convened a wage board that enacted a different schedule for fast food workers. All minimum wage employees in that industry will be paid $15 an hour by 2021.

Cuomo announced the wage board’s decision with Vice President Joe Biden on September 10, 2015.

Cuomo, after the state spending plan was agreed upon, concedes that there will likely be a discrepancy between the pay of fast food workers and others, for a time. But he was vague about how it might be resolved.

“It depends on the region, where they coincide,” Cuomo said.

Because of the two different minimum wages, an employee at McDonald’s or Burger King could make $100 more a week than a home health care worker or grocery store cashier.

Ron Deutsch is with Fiscal Policy Institute, a union-backed think tank that supports the minimum wage increase. Deutsch says the potential of two different pay scales, one for fast food workers, and another for the rest of minimum wage employees, will cause an economic imbalance.

“We think that has the potential from certain industries towards the fast food industry,” said Deutsch. “And we think that would be unfortunate.”

He says his group supports having the same rate of increase for all minimum wage workers, to $15.

Cuomo and the legislature did insert a break into the minimum wage schedule after five years, to determine whether the economy can support the phased-in minimum wage increase. It’s conceivable that Cuomo, if he is still governor by then, could determine that the other upstate workers should also receive $15 an hour, just like their fast food counterparts.

And, according to Cuomo’s budget division spokesman, Morris Peters, under the new law, the governor’s labor has the power to revisit the decisions of past wage boards, and can make adjustments.