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Cuomo: $15 an hour minimum wage 'economic justice'

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday, Aug. 20,

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015, in Utica. Credit: AP / Mark DiOrio

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, addressing cheering union members, Thursday urged a "march towards economic justice" and a boost in the state's minimum wage to $15 per hour for all workers.

He launched the campaign -- to culminate with the introduction of a bill in the next legislative session -- while announcing his labor commissioner had accepted the recommendation of the governor's wage board to increase fast-food workers' hourly pay to $15.

"It is a march that says if you work full-time you shouldn't have to choose between paying the rent and buying food," Cuomo said alongside Vice President Joe Biden at a rally of organized labor groups in Manhattan. "Every working man and woman in the state of New York deserves $15 an hour as a minimum wage, and we are not going to stop until we get it done."

In Albany, opponents braced for a fight in the 2016 session and questioned Cuomo's tactics on fast-food workers' pay.

"There are significant questions regarding the process the wage board followed," said state Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola). "I find it disturbing."

Cuomo's labor commissioner and wage board refused to appear at a Senate hearing called to challenge the board's recommendation.

The governor empaneled a wage board in May to recommend a raise for the workers to his labor commissioner, avoiding the Senate's Republican majority, which has blocked further increases in the minimum wage. The current statewide minimum is $8.75 an hour. It is set to increase to $9 on Dec. 31.

The fast-food workers' raises are to be phased in. They would make $15 by Dec. 31, 2018, in New York City and by July 1, 2021 elsewhere in the state.

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.

"A $15 minimum wage represents an economic nightmare for most small businesses in New York State," said Melissa Fleischut, president and chief executive of the New York State Restaurant Association.

Raising the minimum wage has been a top priority of influential labor unions and the progressive Working Families Party that endorsed Cuomo in 2014. Cuomo's move was also praised by his frequent nemesis, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

"I certainly want to work with him and the Legislature to get it done," de Blasio said on the cable news station NY1.

The Business Council of New York State said the "drastic increase" would "likely have a negative impact on job creation and individual businesses."

At the labor rally at the Javits Convention Center, Rebecca Cornick said she struggles to support her granddaughter on the $9-an-hour wage she earns at Wendy's.

"Now, I can see a light at the end of the tunnel," said Cornick, 61, of Brooklyn. "A normal life is possible. A normal life, that's all we're asking for."

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