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Panel upholds $15 an hour for fast-food workers

New York State Wage Board member and Buffalo

New York State Wage Board member and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, flanked by fellow members, Mike Fishman and Kevin Ryan, reads the resolution on the minimum wage increase for fast-food workers on July 22, 2015. Photo Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

A state review panel Wednesday upheld an order from the state Labor Department, endorsed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, to raise the minimum wage for fast-food workers at national chains to $15 per hour by 2021.

In an eight-page decision, the Industrial Board of Appeals rebutted the arguments put forward by the National Restaurant Association, which challenged the legality of the wage order on behalf of fast-food chains. The order only applies to chains operating in New York State that have at least 30 locations nationally.

The restaurant association vowed to appeal to the Appellate Division of New York’s State Supreme Court.

The labor department’s Sept. 10 wage order implemented recommendations from the Fast-Food Wage Board, which was appointed by the labor commissioner at Cuomo’s behest.

“The wage order is not contrary to law,” the appeals board said Wednesday.

The appeals board agreed unanimously that the fast-food wage panel was properly constituted, though none of its three members belonged to the fast-food industry. The restaurant group had questioned the appointment of Internet retail entrepreneur Kevin Ryan as the representative of fast-food employers.

The appeals board said, “While we may agree . . . that Mr. Ryan seems an unlikely choice . . . the statute does not require the employer’s representative to be an employer in the specific occupation under investigation.”

The appeals board also said the wage board followed state law in deciding that only some fast-food eateries should pay higher hourly salaries, and it did not undermine the powers of the state legislature, as the restaurant association claimed.

Two of the four appeals board members were appointed by Cuomo.

Association spokeswoman Christin Fernandez said the appeals board’s decision “says loud and clear New York is not open for business. We . . . plan to take legal action against this arbitrary mandate, which is contrary to law.”

Cuomo hailed the decision. “No one who works hard should ever be condemned to a life of poverty,” he said.

About 24,000 fast-food workers on Long Island will be affected by the $15 wage rate.

Cuomo has promised to press next year for an across-the-board minimum wage of $15 per hour. The minimum is now $8.75 and will rise to $9 by Dec. 31.

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