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N.Y. Gov. Cuomo broadens push for $15 wage to all restaurants

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday afternoon that the state intends to raise the minimum wage of all foodservice and hourly workers to $15 an hour, not just fast-food employees as he had originally planned.

However, New York law limits the governor’s ability to change wages by directive to a particular industry at a time, according to legislative experts. The governor’s pledge suggests he intends to ramrod an across-the-board increase into law through the usual legislative process, not the shortcut he started down earlier this summer to raise the pay exclusively of quick-service restaurant workers.

That route enables the pay of a particular industry to be raised by the New York Department of Labor at the recommendation of a Wage Board representing different components of the economy. The Wage Board several weeks ago advised Acting Labor Secretary Mario Musolino gradually to raise the pay floor for fast-food workers in New York City to $15 an hour by 2018 and by 2021 for QSR workers elsewhere. The state’s current minimum wage is $8.75, with a 25-cent bump mandated by law for Jan. 1.

At today’s event, Cuomo noted that Musolino had accepted the Board’s recommendation, indicating the administration will proceed with the implementation of the Board’s plan. New York would become the first state to mandate a $15 wage.

Cuomo shared the stage in making his announcement with two officials from Service Employers International Union, which had pushed hard for the so-called living wage. SEIU President Mary Kay Henry said the union will use the victory in New York to press for the $15 wage coast to coast. “New York is going to challenge the rest of the nation,” she said.

A restaurant alliance that includes the National Restaurant Association has hired Randy Mastro, a politically connected former deputy mayor of New York City, to lead a legal challenge of Cuomo’s unconventional route to raising wages.  Mastro sent a letter to the governor several weeks ago, spelling out reasons why the group regards the industry-specific wage hike as illegal.

Many observers expect the increase to be challenged in lawsuits. 

Restaurant Business editors will continue to update this story as we get more information. Check back for the latest updates!

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