New York Food Workers Guaranteed Increased Wages

Photo by stockimages.  Stock Photo - Image ID: 100105597
Photo by stockimages.
Stock Photo – Image ID: 100105597

February 26, 2014- On February 24, 2015 the Acting Commissioner of New York State’s Department of Labor, Mario J. Musolino, announced the passage of certain dramatic wage changes which were, previously, proposed, studied, and debated for four months by the 2014 Hospitality Wage Board regarding the wages of tipped workers in the food and hospitality industries.  The direct impact of these changes is to increase the mandated, guaranteed wages for tipped food and hospitality workers.

Classically, workers in New York State that have relied, primarily, on tips for their compensation have been relegated to sub-minimum wages. Food and hospitality industry workers have relied on the benefit of the generosity of customer’s tips to offset the shortfall between their wage and the New York State Minimum guaranteed wage for all other workers.

Effective December 15, 2015 the NYS guaranteed cash wage for tipped workers in food and hospitality will be $7.50 per hour. This is the first such increase since 2011 when the standard for these workers became $5.65 per hour.

For New York City tipped food and hospitality workers the change allows for a $1 differential, or $8.50 per hour. This differential runs parallel to Governor Cuomo’s initiative to allow for a similar differential in the base minimum wage for all other New York City workers as compared the rest of New York State.

The Commissioner also committed to commence a study which examines the impact of the complete elimination of cash wages and tip credits in the food and hospitality industry in New York State.  The result of that study are expected later this year.

While the obvious impact of the measures are to increase the wages of tipped workers in New York State and New York City the ultimate true impact is not yet known. Currently, some food and hospitality spokespeople have indicated that the industry, in response to the Commissioner’s initiative, is examining a voluntary elimination of tipping for workers and the imposition of a service fee on all checks to consumers while transitioning workers to the State guaranteed minimum wage for all other workers.

Pres. Obama and Gov. Cuomo Fight to Raise Wages

January 22, 2015– In Tuesday Night’s State of the Union address, President Obama made increasing the Federal Minimum Wage a central theme of his economic platform. While this proposal is not new to the President’s agenda, he used a recovering economy and the signs of an increasing Presidential public approval rating to bolster his opportunity to be more vocal on the issue.

While individual states always have the ability to deviate more favorably to employees from the Federal government’s wage standard, the President highlighted the moral responsibility of the Federal Government in setting a heightened National baseline on wages.  He was unequivocal in the expression of his belief that wage increases are essential to improving the fabric of the American workplace and the life of the American worker.

To a Republican controlled Congress, the President challenged “To everyone in this Congress who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this: If you truly believe you could work full time and support a family on less that $15,000 a year, go try it. If not, vote to give millions of the hardest working people in America a raise.” While this dramatic challenge may have resonated with the American people, it may be more rhetoric than policy as the, now Republican majority in the Congress, has vehemently refused to take up any measure increasing the Minimum Wage above the 2009 rate of $7.25 per hour.

The President also focused on other workplace related issues, which he was looking for Congress to take a leadership role in establishing national policy on, including paid sick leave, paternity leave, and universal day care. Once again, under the current make-up of Congress, passage of such legislation is also unlikely.

Meanwhile, in New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a significant increase in the state’s current $8.75 per hour minimum wage to $10.50 per hour by 2016, outside of NYC. In a surprising change of position from his stance of late last year, the Governor also proposed a NYC differential of $1.00 per hour in NYC’s minimum wage, or $11.50 per hour by 2016. These increases would make NYC and NYS among the highest minimum wage jurisdictions in the country. Earlier this month, 21 other states implemented minimum wages hikes.

(see http://newyorkovertimelaw.com/blog/21-states-raise-minimum-wage-federal/)

In making his proposal the Governor focused less on the obligation of NYS citizens to support each other, or on the moral obligations of the NYS legislature, but more on New York keeping pace with the healthier state of the economy, “The world has changed. The market is strong and I believe the market, this market, at this rate of strength, can deal with this.” While the proposed wage promulgated by the Governor is far below his original proposal of $13 per hour, it is also unlikely to see clear passage with a New York State Senate in equal opposition as the US. Congress to such a measure.

While a substantial increases in the Federal and New York State minimum wage seem unlikely under the current political climate, the issue is of significant and consequential concern to a financially devastated American workforce. What it will take to transform this powerful political rhetoric into actual implemented legislation is unclear; however, it seems unlikely that these Executive standard bearers are, summarily, willing to concede the issue to their Republican opposition.