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ALBANY - (Updates with state approval of higher minimum wage for fast food workers)
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's labor commissioner and the wage board that Cuomo appointed refused to appear at a Senate hearing Thursday called to question the board's recommendation that the minimum wage for fast-food workers be raised to $15 an hour.
Cuomo's appointees weren't subpoenaed to attend, but they could be at a later date, said Senate Labor Committee Chairman Jack Martins (R-Mineola), who called the hearing.
Hours later in Manhattan, at an event with Vice President Joe Biden, Cuomo announced that his labor commissioner had accepted the recommendation of his wage board.
"The state of New York's Labor Department has accepted the Wage Board recommendation in full and 150,000 fast food workers will see their wages rise to $15 an hour," Cuomo said. He then immediately proposed a $15 minimum wage for all workers statewide, a measure that would require approval by the Senate's Republican majority.
The proposal, which would create the highest minimum wage in the nation, was expected (http://nwsdy.li/1J0eYc9).
The current statewide minimum wage is $8.75 an hour, which is also paid to fast-food restaurant workers. It is scheduled to increase to $9 on Dec. 31.
Raising the minimum wage for fast-food workers and for all workers has been part of a massive campaign by politically influential labor unions and the liberal Working Families Party. Cuomo had fought hard to get the Working Families Party endorsement in his re-election bid.
"There are significant questions regarding the process the wage board followed," Martins said in an interview before the hearing in Albany. "I find it disturbing."
A spokesman for the state Labor Department didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Republican senators said Cuomo limited his wage board to three members without including a representative of the businesses that would have to pay the higher wage.
Testimony at the hearing also questioned how objectively Cuomo's wage board did its work after Cuomo wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times calling for a higher wage for fast-food workers.
Senators also criticized a lack of transparency in the process that could allow the public to consider the issue. Cuomo appointed the wage board after it was clear the Senate's Republican majority would oppose another increase in the minimum wage.
"I'm a senator," said Sen. Kathy Marchione (R-Saratoga), "I thought my job was to be part of the process."
The legislature would have to approve Cuomo's proposal for a $15-an-hour minimum wage statewide. The Assembly's Democratic majority originally proposed the higher wage and continues to support it.
"We need to proceed cautiously and deliberatively, and take a step back to study the real-life consequences of any additional increase in the minimum wage, especially one of the magnitude of a nearly 70-percent hike," said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport).