New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his support for a $15 an hour minimum wage across the state Thursday afternoon, and said the state labor commissioner has approved raising the minimum wage for fast food workers to $15 an hour.
"The truth is it's wrong to have an economy... where the American dream of mobility and opportunity has become more of an American myth," said the governor, who was joined on stage by Vice President Joe Biden. "An economy of the lucky and the left-outs, an economy where if you are born poor, you will probably die poor. That is not the American way."
Cuomo also announced the approval of a state wage board recommendation raising the minimum wage for fast food workers. Business groups have pledged to fight that increase in court, but if Cuomo's plan succeeds, 150,000 fast food workers will see their wages rise to $15 an hour.
More than three million New Yorkers earned at or below the proposed $15 minimum in 2014 — nearly 40% of the workforce — according to a report by The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank based in New York.
Though the proposal for a state-wide minimum wage increase is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled legislature in Albany, the symbolic significance is enormous for the national Fight for 15 movement to raise pay for low-wage workers, which began in New York City three years ago.
"We know, brothers and sisters, that the courage and guts of 200 fast food workers who had the bodacious idea to strike their fast food stores in 2012 are the real heroes of today," said Service Employee International Union President Mary Kay Henry, referring to those who started the movement.
Vice President Biden, who accompanied the Governor and leant his support to the measure, decried wage stagnation and applauded Cuomo "for stepping up with a smart, reasonable plan."
Cuomo has previously pushed to raise the state's minimum wage, currently $8.75 an hour, but the Republican-controlled state legislature has rebuffed his attempts.
In May, the governor convened a three-member Wage Board to study whether fast food workers could live on their current pay. The board recommended raising the minimum for the sector to $15 an hour in stages, more quickly in the city than the rest of the state. Business groups are challenging the legality of the measure.
"We are disappointed with the decision today to sign off on a recommendation from a wage board that was created to target a single industry and will cause a host of negative unintended consequences," said Melissa Fleischut, President & CEO of the NYS Restaurant Association, in a statement following the announcement. "From the very beginning this process has been nothing but a farce with a predetermined outcome."
Industry groups critical of the Wage Board increase claim the raise will lead to fewer jobs or fewer hours for existing workers, and have called the raise "discriminatory" for focusing on the franchise food industry.
"While Gov. Cuomo burnishes his political credentials, hundreds of small businesses and the thousands of people they employ will bear the consequences of this bad policy," said Michael Saltsman, research director at the business-backed Employment Policies Institute, calling the Wage Board raise "a favor to Big Labor."
Cuomo is one of a host of prominent Democrats to push for a minimum wage increase. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has called for a $15 minimum wage in the city and $13 in the rest of the state, while Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have all approved raises to $15, in stages, for all workers. Chicago has approved a raise to $13 and Washington, D.C. to $11.50.
On a federal level, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, has argued for a national minimum of $15, and President Obama has called for increasing the federal minimum to $12.
"Consensus among lawmakers, companies and workers across industries is building that $15 is the minimum Americans everywhere need to support their families," said Paul Sonn, general counsel of the National Employment Law Project (NELP).
Sonn also attributes minimum wage raises to $15 by private employers, such as Amalgamated Bank, Aetna, Facebook, and, this week, Nationwide, to worker demands.
Even if the proposed state-wide $15 measure does not pass, the $15 minimum for fast food workers could have ripple effects on other industries, said Christine Owens, executive director of NELP. "Raising wages for fast-food workers will prompt other service sectors to compete, creating a powerful new standard for pay in New York," she said.