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Fast-food workers on public assistance swayed wage board

The state fast-food wage board on June 29,

The state fast-food wage board on June 29, 2015. Members are, from left, Pico Ben-Amotz, state Labor Department staffer; Michael Fishman, of the Service Employees International Union; board chairman Byron Brown, mayor of Buffalo; Kevin Ryan, founder of online retailer, Gilt.com, and Labor Department staffer James Rogers Credit: Newsday / James T. Madore

Six in 10 fast-food workers in New York State are on public assistance, a circumstance that persuaded a state panel to recommend increasing the minimum wage at chain eateries to $15 per hour by 2021, according to a report released Friday.

The state fast-food wage board said in a 23-page report supporting its raise proposal that chain restaurants are highly profitable but keep their employees in poverty with low salaries and too few working hours.

The three-member board estimated that New York sends $903 million per year to fast-food workers in the form of food stamps and other aid.

The wage board also identified at least 137 chains, each with 30 or more locations across the country, that would be impacted by its recommendation if it is implemented by the state's acting labor commissioner. They include Au Bon Pain, Carvel, Five Guys, Red Mango, Sonic and White Castle.

Long Island is home to about 2,300 fast-food establishments that employ as many as 24,000 workers, according to the state Department of Labor. They now earn the state minimum wage of $8.75 per hour or more.

The report, which board members unanimously approved Monday in a meeting that lasted 21/2 minutes, was made public Friday after all three members had signed it.

Written objections will be accepted until Aug. 15 at wage

board@labor.ny.gov. The labor commissioner has 45 days to accept, reject or amend the board's wage proposal.

The fast-food industry "enjoys large profits and growth," the board said. Yet, its workers "are left with weekly wages and schedules that are difficult to live on or work around."

The board added, "We cannot ignore the savings to taxpayers that will accrue by increasing the minimum wage as workers become less reliant on public assistance."

The board also responded to criticism from restaurant owners that their profit margins are thin and that they won't be able to compete if workers' pay is boosted.

The board said franchisees of McDonald's, Dunkin' Donuts and other chains have "structural and economic advantages over traditional small businesses," including brand recognition, shared advertising, tested operating procedures and financial assistance from franchise companies.

The board didn't mention high fees that franchisees often pay to franchise companies.

The board members are chairman Byron Brown, mayor of Buffalo; business representative Kevin Ryan of the online retailer Gilt.com, and labor representative Michael Fishman of the Service Employees International Union.

The trio were appointed in May at the behest of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo after he didn't persuade the Republican majority in the State Senate to approve another across-the-board increase in the state minimum wage, which is scheduled to climb to $9 at year's end.

If the board's recommendation is accepted, New York would become the first state to boost the minimum wage for a single industry beyond the statewide minimum.

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