By Melissa Fleischut and Mike Durant
Owners, operators and advocates of New York’s restaurants are deeply concerned with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s choice to unfairly target limited-service restaurants with a wage board that will raise wages for fast-food workers only.
The wage board has been a deeply flawed process from day one. The governor has egregiously circumvented New York’s legislative process by appointing a board that in no way accurately represents the interests of the restaurant industry. The members of the board are not elected officials and thus lack accountability for their actions, and all three have supported raising the minimum wage. The fix is in.
Because of that we formed the Save NY Restaurants coalition, a group that includes members of the restaurant and business communities here in Buffalo and all across our state. Since the governor has left us voiceless in the process, we are standing up to say that forcing a wage increase on certain restaurants is inherently unfair.
The board’s recent public hearings have insufficiently and inaccurately represented the voice of New York restaurant owners. Most fast-food restaurants are run by local businesspeople, not global corporations. These local franchises are run like a small business and their owners live and work in the community just like the rest of us. These operators certainly don’t make billions in profits like those who have been testifying would like you to believe.
Since the governor did not ask a single business owner how a dramatic wage increase would affect their ability to operate in New York, the Employment Policy Institute asked 925 of them. Eighty-three percent said they are very likely or somewhat likely to reduce staffing levels in response to a $15 per hour minimum wage. Almost one-quarter of the respondents – 22 percent – said they would be very likely to close. A sharp minimum wage increase would kill jobs, close businesses and discourage new restaurants from opening.
Keep in mind that the restaurant industry is just the first target. If the minimum wage goes to $15 for certain businesses, all other lower wage industries would have to compete in the same labor pool. Starting wages for nurses, EMTs, child care workers, home health care workers and pre-k teachers are all in the $15 range.
Our state can’t afford Cuomo’s discriminatory attempt to raise wages for limited-service restaurants. We need an inclusive process that does not demonize and intimidate certain voices. What we don’t need is a stacked deck that champions a board that will not be held accountable for its actions.
Melissa Fleischut is president and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association. Mike Durant is New York State director for the National Federation of Independent Business. They represent the Save NY Restaurants coalition.