Westchester/Fairfield Business Journals: In New York, a Wage Hike Tug of War

By John Golden
Westchester County and Fairfield County Business Journals, June 1, 2012

Support for increasing New York’s minimum wage has grown among business advocacy groups and business owners and executives statewide in the closing weeks of a legislative session in Albany ...

In Westchester County, the wage hike has not been a high-priority issue for the two largest business groups here, The Business Council of Westchester and Westchester County Association. Neither has taken a position on the bill passed by the Democrat-controlled Assembly in May, which would raise the state’s minimum hourly wage from $7.25 to $8.50 on Jan. 1, 2013. The minimum wage in future years would be pegged to the annual inflation rate. ...

The Senate version of the bill was sponsored by Sen. Jeffrey Klein, a member of the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference, whose 34th district includes the Bronx and parts of Westchester. Klein said that putting more money in the pockets of minimum wage earners would spur demand for additional jobs.

Klein released a report, prepared with the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute, that found the $8.50 wage will boost the wages of affected workers by roughly $950 million, of which $600 million will be almost immediately spent on goods and services. That economic activity is expected to spark the creation of an estimated 5,200 new full-time jobs and add approximately 4,800 new workers to employer payrolls statewide. ...

Yet a spring campaign in support of the wage hike, organized by Business for Shared Prosperity, has been joined by several large companies, national and regional business groups and more than 200 small business owners in New York. The list includes Costco, the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce, the American Sustainable Business Council and, in Irvington, Eileen Fisher Inc.

Eileen Fisher, the women clothing company’s founder and chief creative officer, in a press release announcing the Business for a Fair Minimum Wage campaign, noted the “enormous contribution” of New York City factory workers to her 28-year-old company’s fabrics production. Raising the state’s minimum wage “would be a step on the path to acknowledging the positive difference they make in the success of our company and all brands who engage local labor in their supply chains.”

As the legislative session winds down, the minimum wage increase has broad support among New Yorkers, according to a Quinnipiac University poll conducted in late May. Voters supported the wage hike by a 79-18 percent margin. Among Republicans, 61 percent favored increasing wages.

More poll respondents thought the hourly minimum should be set higher than $8.50, compared with those supporting the Assembly-approved increase. And 51 percent of respondents did not think small businesses will reduce hiring if the minimum wage is raised, compared with 41 percent who agreed with wage hike opponents that jobs will be lost.

At The Business Council of Westchester, “We haven’t taken a position,” said Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer John Ravitz, “but we recognize the fact that the present minimum wage doesn’t work in Westchester for employees. When you look at the cost of living in Westchester County, we’re realistic that this has to be addressed.”

A wage increase “could be a hardship” for small businesses in the county, Ravitz said.

At the Westchester County Association, “I don’t see it as a big issue here,” said President William M. Mooney Jr. In an affluent county where large corporations and mid-sized companies do business, a minimum-wage increase “is not a big deal,” he said. “There’s no pushback against something like that here.”

Mooney said he has heard more support for a wage hike this spring than in previous years. “I think everybody is more appreciative of somebody else’s plight than they were a few years ago,” he said.

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Copyright 2012 Westfair Business Publications

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