ALBANY — A leading Republican on Thursday questioned a proposal to rapidly escalate the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour, but not the idea of a wage hike itself.
At a state legislative hearing, Sen. Jack Martins (R-Old Westbury) grilled unionists who support the wage hike proposed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on whether there was any “magic” in setting it at $15 per hour and whether New York was moving faster than other states. Martins, chairman of the Senate Labor Committee, said he had concerns about the “amount of this increase” and what could be a six-year phase-in.
“How did we get to 15?” Martins said at one point in the daylong hearing.
But, notably, like others in the Republican-led Senate, Martins didn’t rule out a wage hike — fueling speculation that the Senate could back a raise if it is paired with help for businesses, including tax cuts.
A day earlier, on the opening day of the 2016 legislative session, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said: “If it’s only about minimum wage and it’s not about job training and workforce development and creating some equity for business owners, it’s going to be a difficult conversation.”
The minimum wage increased to $9 per hour last week, under a series of upgrades lawmakers approved in 2013. Cuomo, a Democrat, and the Democrat-controlled Assembly are pushing to boost it to $15 per hour.
Cuomo already has used executive powers to begin enacting a plan to gradually raise the wage for fast-food workers to $15 per hour by 2021, as well as for state employees. Those steps could politically box in Republicans, who might find it hard to resist improving the wage for all workers. Cuomo is expected to formally introduce a minimum-wage proposal Wednesday when he delivers his State of the State speech.
Martins questioned whether a person working for minimum wage and getting welfare assistance might risk losing public aid if his earnings go up.
“How do we ramp up [the wage] so we don’t create an incentive not to work?” Martins said, adding he was concerned how the “shop on the corner” would afford it.
“I don’t think there’s anything magic” about $15 per hour, George Gresham, head of Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union, the politically influential health care workers union, told Martins. But Gresham said unless their wage is raised, so they can raise their families, they will have to take jobs “flipping hamburgers” for the higher wage.
Opponents said such a steep wage hike would be “counterproductive, drive up prices” and trigger layoffs of low-earning workers — especially in struggling upstate communities.
“We’ve been losing manufacturing jobs at almost twice the rate of the national rate for two generations,” said Ken Pokalsky of the New York State Business Council. “We find it hard to take seriously an argument that a typical employer can absorb the [proposed] wage increase.”