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Battle escalates to stop N.Y.’s $15 wage

The National Restaurant Association has escalated its effort to stop the backdoor plan by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to raise the minimum wage for fast-food workers to $15 an hour, turning this time to the state’s watchdog on labor policy.

The move is a likely prelude to a court challenge of the wage hike, which was set in motion after the governor failed to ramrod the increase through the statehouse.

The trade group complained in a 26-page submission to New York’s Industrial Board of Appeal that the wage hike ordered in September by the state’s top labor official should be killed because it was an end run around the legislative process.  Cuomo had pushed Albany lawmakers to raise the state’s minimum wage to the levels sought by labor groups in the state. After that effort failed, the governor directed Acting Labor Secretary Mario Musolino to pursue a different course for raising the pay floor.

An obscure New York law allows the labor secretary to increase wages for a particular industry if an investigative commission decides a hike is needed. Musolino convened such a panel, which advised that the minimum wage be raised specifically for the employees of chain fast-food restaurants.

The NRA hired Randy Mastro, a former deputy mayor of New York City and a well-known figure in New York’s bare-knuckled political scene, to file a formal objection with Musolino about the process.

Musolino proceeded with his recommendation that the minimum wage for quick-service employees be raised, starting with a hike on December 31 to $10.50 in New York City and $9.75 everywhere else in the state.  The floor would be raised in increments until it hits $15 for New York restaurants by 2019, and for quick-service employers elsewhere by July 2021.

Almost simultaneously, Cuomo announced that he would seek to raise the minimum wage for all employees in the state to $15 an hour.

The state’s current minimum wage is $8.75 an hour, which took effect the month before Musolini issued his directive.

Last week the NRA turned to the Industrial Board of Appeals, an independent agency with the charge of reviewing decisions by the state labor secretary.  The Board has yet to respond publicly to the filing.

If the complaint fails to sway the board, many expect the NRA to join with other employer groups to seek injunctive relief from the courts.

If the group fails to derail the hike, New York would be the first state in the nation to adopt a $15 minimum wage.

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