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New York steps toward a “living wage” for restaurant workers

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has ordered the formation of a government task force to study the way fast-food workers are compensated and recommend an increase in their minimum wage.

The Wage Board would focus specifically on the restaurant business, not hourly workers in all fields. A deadline of July 1 was set for its recommendations.

In making the announcement Thursday, Cuomo did not say how much he would like to see the minimum wage raised from the current level of $8.75 an hour. But his comments showed favor for the so-called living wage, which proponents have set at $15.

“If you work full time, you should be able to provide for yourself and your family and move beyond poverty. That is what the minimum wage is all about,” the Democrat said. “The minimum wage must be a wage that allows for a decent living.”

By directing Acting State Labor Commissioner Mario Musolino to form the Wage Board, Cuomo is in effect bypassing the legislature in raising the state’s pay floor. State laws permit a wage board to recommend changes in pay for a specific industry.

Labor groups and living-wage advocates hailed Cuomo’s move as a breakthrough development. Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, speaking on behalf of the progressive group MoveOn.org,  called it “a game-changing victory.”

“This is what happens when workers join together, go on strike and demand $15,” said the union-backed Fight for $15 organization.

The move was blasted by the restaurant industry.

“The idea that a state’s executive branch can unilaterally target one sector of employers in an unprecedented move around a democratically elected legislature is extremely alarming,” National Restaurant Association President and CEO Dawn Sweeney said in a posting on the organization’s website.

New York has more restaurants than all but three states (California, Texas and Florida).

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