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Proponents hail possible deal on NY minimum wage

John Corrado, president of Suffolk Transportation Service, with

John Corrado, president of Suffolk Transportation Service, with local labor advocates, says a wage hike would be beneficial to the economy. (March 18, 2013) Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Advocates of raising the minimum wage Tuesday hailed a tentative deal among the state's top leaders to boost the wage to $9, while opponents were relieved the increase will be phased in.

Long Island has been a battleground in the fight over whether to hike the $7.25-per-hour minimum, in part because the region is home to many small businesses and Republican leaders of the State Senate, both of which have opposed efforts to boost the wage rate.

The tentative deal, to be included in the state's 2013-14 budget, calls for the minimum to climb to $9 an hour by the end of 2015, according to aides to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the Assembly's Democratic majority and the Senate's governing coalition.

They said the agreement includes tax breaks proposed by Senate Republicans to offset employers' larger payroll costs, including a tax credit for every teen worker.

The aides, who requested anonymity, said future raises would be subject to lawmakers' approval, not be automatically tied to the inflation rate, as had been championed by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan).

John J. Corrado, president of Suffolk Transportation Service Inc., said Tuesday the apparent agreement in Albany would benefit the occupants of corner offices and the rank and file.

"This will allow workers that have lost jobs to re-enter the workforce. . . . It will increase spending, and that will be beneficial to the economy," he said.

Corrado, whose Bay Shore company employs 1,500 workers operating school buses and Suffolk County public buses, joined other executives, union leaders and advocates for immigrants at a Woodbury event to celebrate the likelihood that the wage rate will be going up.

Separately, the Long Island Association, the region's largest business group, predicted that raising the minimum wage would result in higher salaries for non-entry jobs, and therefore boost costs across the board. However, LIA president Kevin Law added, "We are pleased to see the proposed increases would be phased in over a three-year period and not be indexed to inflation."

The wage hike will likely affect a small group, primarily at farms, restaurants, delis, home improvement contractors and car washes.

Roughly 32,000 local residents -- 2.3 percent of those employed -- were paid the $7.25 minimum or less in 2011, based on ratios calculated by Newsday using statewide data. The number equals the population of Oceanside. Service industry workers earning tips can legally be paid less than the minimum.

Dean Norton, president of the state Farm Bureau, said raising the minimum wage would make growers uncompetitive.

"We must control costs to keep the barn doors open," he said.

Still, backers of higher wage rates want more to be done.

Jon Cooper, president of Spectronics Corp., a Westbury-based maker of ultraviolet equipment and fluorescent materials, called the Albany pact "a step in the right direction, but it's not a living wage." He is a former leader of the Suffolk County Legislature's Democratic majority.

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