The New York State Senate in January.

The New York State Senate in January. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

ALBANY — Senate Republicans on Wednesday urged Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to postpone a scheduled increase in the minimum wage on Dec. 31.

The increase would be paid by small- and medium-sized companies, which Republicans say have been pushed to the fiscal brink by COVID-19’s drag on the economy.

The hourly minimum wage is scheduled to rise by $1 to $14 on Long Island and in Westchester County.

"We do not want our small businesses to make the difficult choice of laying off workers or closing their doors because this becomes the final straw during the financial fragility of the pandemic," said Senate Republican leader Rob Ortt with the support of the GOP Senate minority conference.

The Democratic-led State Legislature and Cuomo enacted the higher minimum wage, to be phased in over six years, and consider it one of their landmark progressive pieces of legislation. The Legislature isn’t scheduled to be in session this month, but Cuomo, under the extraordinary powers he assumed in declaring a coronavirus state of emergency, can amend or suspend laws on his own.

Cuomo and Democratic legislation leaders didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

But union leader Mario Cilento said a delay in the minimum-wage increase would hit low-income workers the hardest.

"This shortsighted proposal is clearly out of touch with the struggles of workers trying to survive in this crisis," said Cilento, president of the 2.5 million-member state AFL-CIO and an ally of Cuomo and legislative leaders. "Now they want to deny workers what they have been promised — a long overdue minimum wage increase that finally begins to address poverty and income inequality across this state."

Ortt (R-North Tonawanda) cited a survey from the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which found that 20% of small-business owners believe they will shut down within six months.

Cuomo on Wednesday repeated his plea for billions of federal dollars in coronavirus stimulus funding to avoid deep increases in taxes and reduced services that he said could usher in a recession. He initially shut down, then slowly reopened, businesses in the state under his actions to reduce the spread of the virus. Further shutdowns, however, are possible as the number of COVID-19 infections rise.

Cuomo said the lack of federal aid would mean "you hurt small businesses that have been hanging by their fingernails for months."

The state minimum wage in New York City is scheduled to remain at $15 an hour on Dec. 31. The minimum wage upstate is scheduled to rise to $12.50 an hour, from $11.80.

Next year, the hourly minimum wage on Long Island and in Westchester is scheduled to rise to $15.

E.J. McMahon of the Empire Center for Public Policy think tank called for the delay on Nov. 30, citing state figures on unemployment and sluggish commerce during the pandemic. He said a provision in the law allows the state Department of Labor to suspend or delay a scheduled increase based on an economic analysis.

The state unemployment rate was 9.6% in October, down from 9.7% in September, but up from 3.9% before the virus hit the state, according to Labor Department statistics released last month. The October unemployment rate was 6.5% on Long Island and 13.1% in New York City.

"In this continuing economic crisis, New Yorkers need jobs, and New York’s surviving small businesses need breathing room," McMahon wrote. "The new data provides all the excuses DOB (read: Cuomo) needs to postpone the next scheduled minimum wage increase."

Latest videos


Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months