On Thursday, Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders passed the 2013-2014 budget, which proved to be a mixed bag for working New Yorkers. Advocates spent the last few years working on a minimum wage hike in New York, and were encouraged when Governor Cuomo included a minimum wage increase in his legislative priorities for 2013. After President Obama's support for a $9 minimum wage increase plus indexing to inflation, and the passage of a NYS Assembly Bill that followed suit, 2013 looked like the year to really win a victory for low-income New Yorkers.
In Governor Cuomo's budget, low-income workers will see increases to their wages, but some of the hardest working New Yorkers will be excluded. The current $7.25 minimum wage will increase in three stages, to $8 an hour in 2014, $8.75 in 2015, and $9 by the end of 2015. The deal does not include indexing to inflation, and the wage increase won't be implemented immediately. The incremental increases aren't exactly what advocates were calling for, but they are a step in the right direction.
But on the 11th hour, the Republicans and the Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC) moved to exclude tipped workers from receiving a minimum wage increase. These workers aren't just waiters, they are bussers and runners, workers at nail salons and car washes, and even airport employees who assist elderly and disabled travelers. While many middle class people look nostalgically back on their days of working as a server at a local diner to put themselves through college, their experience is not the norm. Restaurant servers are twice as likely to use food stamps than the U.S. workforce at large, and the family poverty rate for tipped workers is three times more than the family poverty rate for the workforce as a whole. Tipped workers need a wage increase just as much, if not more, than anyone else.
In another sneaky, last minute deal, the Republican and IDC Senators insisted on a tax break for businesses that hire teen workers, which will total $181 million dollars annually. The tax break could cause businesses to pass over older workers and hire teenagers instead, and might also cause businesses to fire new hires once they turn 20 and no longer qualify the business for a tax break. These subsidies are wasteful government handouts that should have gone towards creating good jobs for all New Yorkers.
The last minute inclusions in the minimum wage deal prevent advocates from celebrating a much-needed victory for workers in New York State. The minimum wage increase passed, but only with the unjust and immoral exclusion of some of the hardest workers in the state, and only with a handout to big business. Is this agreement all that we can expect from our elected officials? Or can we -- and should we -- expect more? In the next legislative session, we're going to push for a better deal for New York's working families, because we deserve more, and the IDC and their Republican friends will do what they can to ensure that workers don't get what they deserve.