Syracuse Post Standard: It's Not Over Yet: Minimum wage hike deserves vote in state Senate

Syracuse Post-Standard, May 29, 2012

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave up on the minimum wage hike last week. He was premature.

Though he likes the proposed increase from $7.25 an hour to $8.50 an hour, indexed to inflation in the future — and though the Assembly easily passed the measure, championed by Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan — Cuomo acknowledges the state Senate is the obstacle. ...

But if the opinion of voters — including business leaders — matters, Cuomo and Senate friends should reconsider.

New York voters want a minimum wage hike. A recent Quinnipiac poll showed 76 percent of respondents in favor, with only 21 percent opposed. Even Republicans favor a raise, 53-43. Upstaters are big backers, 75-23.

Many small retail and service businesses already pay well over the minimum. Mark Jaffe of the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce said 80 percent of his 25,000 members favor a living wage of at least $11.50 an hour. “Fast food chains and some retailers want us to believe raising the minimum wage will chase business out of the state,” he said in a conference call last week. “Not by our survey.” Paul Sonn of the National Employment Law Project said a minimum wage hike would not hurt small- and medium-sized firms, which typically pay 80 cents an hour more than big retailers.

There are two pragmatic reasons to raise the minimum wage, business leaders explain. One is lower employee turnover. “It’s the best way to grow our business,” said Jeff Long of Costco, the giant retailer who breaks the mold with an $11 per hour starting wage. “Low turnover reduces our operating costs and training costs.”

David Bolotsky starts workers at $11 an hour at Uncommon Goods in Brooklyn. “We could afford to pay less, but we wouldn’t get the same employee loyalty,” he said.

The second big payoff? “All this money will be spent locally to help our businesses grow and prosper,” said Jaffe. Melanie Beam, who advocates for local businesses through Capital District Local First, agreed: “It’s good for business to have more money out there getting recirculated into the community.”

Researchers say raising the minimum wage won’t hurt employers or the economy. Said Jeannette Wicks-Lim of the University of Massachusetts: “We find the cost is quite modest and wouldn’t force businesses to respond by laying off workers.”

There another compelling reason to hike the minimum wage. “If you have to work 80 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom apartment, you don’t have the time to shop locally,” said Beam. Raise the wage and “businesses would have a better image,” said Jaffe. “If workers were better rested, participated more in the economy, they’d smile and be happy.” ...

At least 18 other states already have higher minimums than New York, and 10 index their wage to inflation. There is still time to get this done. Are you listening, senators?

Read more: 

Copyright 2012

Share +