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State Senate plans hearings on 'unorthodox' fast-food wage board

Fast-food workers and supporters rally on Wednesday morning,

Fast-food workers and supporters rally on Wednesday morning, July 22, 2015, outside a McDonald's on Old Country Road in Westbury. Credit: David L. Pokress

The State Senate will examine the "unorthodox process" used by a state panel to recommend that fast-food chains pay their employees a minimum of $15 per hour by 2021, an influential senator said Monday.

Sen. Jack M. Martins (R-Mineola), chairman of the Senate Labor Committee, said the committee would begin to hold hearings by mid-September on the legality of the fast-food wage board that was established by the administration of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in May. The topics will include the board's composition and the process it used to determine that fast-food workers need a raise.

"The wage board . . . shouldn't be used as a means of getting around the legislature," Martins said Monday in an interview. "If we allow the democratic process to be circumvented in this way, what's next?"

He has invited acting state Labor Commissioner Mario J. Musolino to participate in the first hearing, to be held in Albany.

Musolino appointed the three-member wage board at the behest of Cuomo, a Democrat, after the GOP-controlled Senate balked at another across-the-board increase in the state minimum wage while an earlier hike is being implemented. The $8.75-per-hour rate is set to rise to $9 at year's end.

Martins said, "If $9 an hour . . . needs to be re-evaluated then we re-evaluate it through the legislative process, not by picking an industry statewide and throwing it into a tailspin."

In an Aug. 14 letter to the commissioner, the senator requested an extension of the public comment period on the fast-food wage board's proposal beyond the Aug. 15 deadline.

A labor department spokesman Monday didn't respond to requests for comment.

A public relations firm representing advocates for a $15-per-hour minimum wage reported Monday there were more than 16,600 submissions in favor of the wage board's recommendation during a 15-day public comment period that ended Saturday.

Ansy Belizaire works for the Peapod delivery unit of Stop & Shop supermarkets earning $10.50 per hour after seven years, and hopes to one day get a raise as well. "We work hard every day," the Medford resident wrote in a comment. "I need the raise so I can support my three kids."

The Business Council of New York State wrote that the fast-food wage board had been "improperly impaneled" because no board member came from the fast-food industry.

The board was led by Byron Brown, mayor of Buffalo, with business representative Kevin Ryan of the retailer, and labor representative Michael Fishman of the Service Employees International Union.

The union is helping to lead a national campaign to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour from $7.25.

The Long Island Association business group hasn't taken a position on the wage board's recommendation.

The board's July recommendation only affects chains with 30 or more locations across the country. About 24,000 workers on Long Island would be impacted.

The acting labor commissioner has until Sept. 14 to approve, reject or amend the board's proposal, which has already been publicly endorsed by his boss, Cuomo.


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