Fast-food workers converge in downtown Manhattan on July 22, 2015.

Fast-food workers converge in downtown Manhattan on July 22, 2015. Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

Owners of fast-food chain restaurants in New York State vowed Thursday to derail the recommendations of a state panel that would raise employees' minimum pay to $15 per hour by 2021.

The owners and their attorney said the recommendations issued Wednesday by the state fast-food wage board discriminate against eateries that are part of national chains by excluding nonchain restaurants.

The fast-food executives also said there was no justification for a wage hike, and charged that the board's deliberations were biased.

Fast-food workers, including more than 24,000 on Long Island, now earn at least the state minimum wage of $8.75 per hour. If the state's acting labor commissioner approves the wage board's proposals, minimum pay at fast-food chains with at least 30 locations nationwide would climb in steps, starting on Dec. 31.

Separately Thursday, the state's top Republican accused the board, which is part of Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's administration, of undermining the State Legislature's authority to set the minimum wage.

A Cuomo spokesman declined to comment.

In issuing its recommendations, the three-member board said it had considered hundreds of comments made at four public hearings, written statements from 2,000 others and research from economists.

Lawyer Randy Mastro, who represents a coalition of fast-food franchisees, called the wage board's action "an irrational and discriminatory rush to judgment, to reach a predetermined outcome that raises a host of legal problems under New York law."

He wouldn't discuss a potential lawsuit Thursday, saying the franchisees hoped to persuade Labor Commissioner Mario J. Musolino to reject the wage recommendations. The Cuomo appointee has 45 days to act.

Cuomo aides have said the fast-food wage board passes constitutional muster.

Citing state law, the aides have said the board can suggest changes in pay rates for a specific industry if the Department of Labor determines that the industry's wage rates "are insufficient to provide for the life and health of workers."

Besides legal challenges, owners of fast-food chain restaurants are likely to make changes behind the counter.

Jerry Newman, author of the 2007 book, "My Secret Life on the McJob," said prices would increase and self-service kiosks for placing orders would be rolled out.

However, "they aren't going to be cutting a lot of labor . . . They still need workers," said Newman, a retired University at Buffalo professor, who worked undercover at seven eateries.

If the wage board's recommendations are implemented, New York would be the first state to boost minimum pay in a single industry.

Some cities have taken a similar path. For example, the Los Angeles City Council voted last year to raise the minimum wage for employees of big hotels to $15.37 per hour.

In New York, changes to the minimum wage have traditionally been accomplished through legislation.

The fast-food wage board "was unnecessary and it was an overreach by the executive [Cuomo]; it says the legislature doesn't matter," State Senate Majority Leader John J. Flanagan (R-East Northport) said Thursday. "The legislative process should have been followed. Our job is to find that quintessential balance" between competing interests.

The board was established in May after Cuomo and lawmakers failed to reach agreement on raising the state minimum wage beyond $9 per hour -- the rate set to go into effect at year's end.

The Assembly's Democratic majority doesn't share Flanagan's concern.

Assembly spokesman Michael Whyland said, "We would prefer a bill, but anything that can help increase wages is welcome . . . This can lead to a higher minimum wage for all workers."

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