Cuomo signs higher minimum wage into law

Staff Reports Posted 4 April 2016 at 12:00 am

Photo courtesy of Gov. Cuomo’s Office – Gov. Andrew Cuomo is joined by state officials in signing a higher minimum wage into law this morning. The wage will rise to $15 in New York City and $12.50 in Upstate over the next five years. He is joined by, from left in back: Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeffrey Klein, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

NEW YORK CITY – Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today signed legislation enacting a higher minimum wage plan and a 12-week paid family leave policy.

The legislation was passed as part of the 2016-17 state budget, and Cuomo said it marks a major accomplishment in his efforts to restore economic justice and fairness to working families in New York State.

The Governor signed these two pieces of legislation immediately prior to attending a 1,000-person victory rally, which included workers, advocates, labor leaders, and elected officials. That rally was held at the Jacob K. Javits Center in New York City.

“By moving to a $15 statewide minimum wage and enacting the strongest paid family leave policy in the nation, New York is showing the way forward on economic justice,” said Governor Cuomo. “These policies will not only lift up the current generation of low-wage workers and their families, but ensure fairness for future generations and enable them to climb the ladder of opportunity. I am proud to sign these programs into law, because they will ensure a stronger, fairer and brighter future for all New Yorkers.”

$15 Minimum Wage

The state budget includes an historic increase in the minimum wage, ultimately reaching $15 an hour for all workers in all industries across the state.

For workers in New York City employed by large businesses (those with at least 11 employees), the minimum wage would rise to $11 at the end of 2016, then another $2 each year after, reaching $15 on 12/31/2018.

For workers in New York City employed by small businesses (those with 10 employees or fewer), the minimum wage would rise to $10.50 by the end of 2016, then another $1.50 each year after, reaching $15 on 12/31/2019.

For workers in Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester Counties, the minimum wage would increase to $10 at the end of 2016, then $1 each year after, reaching $15 on 12/31/2021.

For workers in the rest of the state, the minimum wage would increase to $9.70 at the end of 2016, then another .70 each year after until reaching $12.50 on 12/31/2020 – after which will continue to increase to $15 on an indexed schedule to be set by the Director of the Division of Budget in consultation with the Department of Labor.

Further, the bill provides a safety valve to the increases. Beginning in 2019, the state DOB Director will conduct an annual analysis of the economy in each region and the effect of the minimum wage increases statewide to determine whether a temporary suspension of the scheduled increases is necessary. That analysis is submitted to the Department of Labor by the Division of Budget.

It is estimated that more than 2.3 million people will be affected by the increases in the minimum wage.

Previously, New York began moving toward a $15 minimum wage for fast food employees, public sector workers, and SUNY employees – in total amounting to roughly a quarter of a million workers in New York State.

12-Week Paid Family Leave

The state budget includes the most comprehensive paid family leave program in the nation. When fully phased in, employees will be eligible for 12 weeks of paid family leave when caring for an infant, a family member with a serious health condition or to relieve family pressures when someone is called to active military service.

Benefits will be phased in beginning in 2018 at 50 percent of an employee’s average weekly wage, capped to 50 percent of the statewide average weekly wage, and fully implemented in 2021 at 67 percent of their average weekly wage, capped to 67 percent of the statewide average weekly wage. This program will be funded entirely through a nominal payroll deduction on employees so it costs businesses – both big and small – nothing. Employees are eligible to participate after having worked for their employer for six months.

Statewide paid family leave will particularly benefit low-income workers who often lack benefits or job security, and for whom access to any leave, even unpaid, is often not available or cost prohibitive, Cuomo said.

Paid family leave also has the potential to serve as a great equalizer for women. In many instances, women who leave the workforce to care for a newborn not only forfeit their existing salaries in the short-term, but also suffer diminished future earnings and career trajectories in the long term. Establishing paid family leave marks a pivotal next step in the pursuit of equality and dignity in both the workplace and the home, the governor said.

Unshackle Upstate, an organization representing a coalition of over 80 business and trade organization, said the higher minimum wage and paid family leave makes New York businesses less competitive.

“Rather than taking the opportunity to make New York more business friendly or grow its economy, this budget agreement imposes additional burdens and challenges for employers – especially those in Upstate communities,” said Greg Biryla, Unshackle Upstate executive director.

“This unprecedented minimum wage mandate on employers – in addition to a paid leave program – will ensure that New York’s business climate will remain one of the worst in the nation, even as our tax burden remains among the highest in the nation.
As bad as this agreement will be for Upstate businesses and taxpayers, the original minimum wage proposal would have been much worse.

“We commend those lawmakers, especially members of the Senate Republican Conference and Upstate Assembly members, who fought for small businesses, farmers and taxpayers in the face of intense pressure from powerful special interests. We also acknowledge their efforts to include much-needed tax relief as part of this agreement.

“Our leaders in Albany should spend the rest of this legislative session working to enact positive measures that will put Upstate New York on a path to long-term prosperity.”