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Half of fast-food restaurants on Long Island could close if hourly wage goes to $15, says poll

Shantel Walker, 33, left, a worker at Papa

Shantel Walker, 33, left, a worker at Papa John's Pizza and one of the leaders of the fast food workers movement, speaks during a rally as the state wage board panel held its first meeting, Wednesday, May 20, 2015, in Manhattan. At right is New York Lt. Gov. Kathleen Hochul. Credit: AP / Bebeto Matthews

Nearly five in 10 fast-food restaurants on Long Island could close if their workers' wages were raised to $15 per hour, according to a poll released Thursday by a group that opposes increasing wage rates.

The survey, conducted last month by the Employment Policies Institute, queried 156 fast-food executives in Nassau and Suffolk counties. The Island has 2,315 fast-food establishments -- defined as any restaurant without table service -- and most employ fewer than 10 people, state data shows.

Forty-nine percent of local owners told the Washington-based institute that they were either very likely or somewhat likely to shut if New York State increases their workers' pay to $15 per hour. Fast-food workers currently earn at least the state minimum wage of $8.75 per hour.

The poll was released in advance of Friday's public hearing being held in Buffalo by a state board considering whether to recommend a raise for fast-food workers statewide.

The poll also found about nine in 10 fast-food restaurants in Nassau and Suffolk counties would hike prices and reduce staff or staff hours if pay jumped to $15.

Michael Saltsman, research director at the institute, which receives support from the restaurant industry, said higher pay for fast-food employees would "destroy opportunities for the people they're trying to help."

The National Employment Law Project, which backs a pay raise, said the institute's poll is "biased."

Paul Sonn, the project's top attorney, said, "This is not a reliable predictor of what's likely to happen if the minimum wage is raised."

Similar polls in San Jose, San Francisco and Seattle were proved wrong, he said, after those cities gave fast-food workers a raise. The Manhattan-based Law Project is funded by the Ford Foundation and others.

The state fast-food wage board will hold a hearing in Garden City on June 18 at noon in the multipurpose room at the College Center Building on the campus of Nassau County Community College.

The hearing was rescheduled from June 15.

The three-member board is expected to issue its recommendations in July to the state labor commissioner. The commissioner, who reports to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, then can unilaterally implement them.

People wishing to testify should register at 1KOXOEB.

A report last month from the labor department found the Island's 24,074 fast-food workers, both full-time and part-time, earn $16,363 per year, on average.

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