Legislation raising New York’s minimum wage didn’t please everybody in Albany, but the final agreement, which incrementally increases the wage to $9 an hour by the end of 2015, was acceptable enough for both houses and the governor to sign on.
That bill is likely to be the biggest piece of legislation directly affecting the state’s workers this year, but there have been other important changes as well—and still more are under discussion.
Signed into law as part of the latest budget, the minimum wage will increase from $7.25 to $8 on Dec. 31, then to $8.75 at the end of 2014 and finally to $9 the following year. The law also establishes a wage board under the state Department of Labor to determine if and when a new minimum wage for tipped workers would go into effect.
As of now, the minimum wage for tipped workers will continue to be $7.25 an hour. A tax credit for employers hiring minimum wage workers who are between the ages of 16 and 19 will offset some of the increased burden the raised wage will bring to small businesses while incentivizing their hiring.
Unemployment benefits will also be pegged to the wages earned in the marketplace. Like the minimum wage, the changes to unemployment benefits were included in the latest state budget, though these will kick in at a far slower place. Over the next 13 years, maximum unemployment benefits will be indexed to the state’s average wage in each profession.
Eventually workers unable to find a job will be eligible to receive up to 50 percent of the state’s average weekly wage, with that maximum figure reached in October 2026.
Workers’ compensation, which provides payments to workers injured on the job, was also altered this year. The governor touted cost reductions by closing a fund for reopened cases, into which businesses will no longer need to make payments.
Further changes aimed at increasing competitiveness in the market are projected to save employers $800 million, with self-insured businesses garnering the lion’s share of those savings. Workers will see minimum weekly benefits increase from $100 to $150 per week.
- Minimum wage hike
- Unemployment benefits reform
- Workers’ compensation expanded and streamlined
- Tax credits for young minimum wage workers
- Farmworker labor standards
Other measures are still on the table, including at least one attempt to repeal part of this year’s minimum wage deal.
A minimum wage tax credit reimbursement for businesses employing teenage workers—a measure pushed by Senate Republicans—has been criticized by some for being poorly designed and wasteful. State Sen. José Peralta has called for repealing the credit entirely.
The tax credit, which will cost an estimated $230 million over its first four years, is designed to encourage the hiring of youths by granting businesses hourly subsidies for workers between the ages of 16 and 19. Opponents fear that the credit will inadvertently disincentivize those same businesses from keeping workers 20 years of age or older on payroll.
Since the state only provides the credit to businesses employing teens at minimum wage, opponents say that the credit effectively creates a maximum wage for the newly hired youth. When even a five-cent raise for young employees disqualifies the employer from receiving a subsidy, employers may find that raises don’t make sense.
Peralta noted that the subsidies could benefit corporations like McDonald’s and Walmart, which he argues don’t need taxpayer support.
“If the idea is to help small business, then let’s try to do that,” said Frank Sobrino, a Peralta spokesman. “As it stands now … this will result in tens of millions of taxpayer dollars going to some of the largest, most profitable companies in the world.”
Senate Republicans deny the tax credit benefits large corporations. According to spokesman Scott Reif, unemployment among young New Yorkers—particularly minorities—remains high, and increases in the minimum wage will only exacerbate the problem. The unemployment rate for New Yorkers ages 16–19 is 28 percent.
“Every member has the right to introduce any legislation they wish, but that doesn’t mean we have to take it seriously,” Reif said. “This provision was part of a budget compromise that will keep young workers from losing their jobs.”
Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan also introduced a bill to expand farmers’ rights and hold agrarian labor practices to the same standards as factories. The bill would grant farmworkers collective bargaining rights, mandate a day off per week and grant time-and-a-half pay for overtime. It passed the Assembly and was awaiting a vote in the Senate at press time.
The New York Farm Bureau, which opposes the bill, criticized applying the labor laws of a factory to the economics of agriculture. “Simply put, harvesting crops doesn’t fit into a typical work week schedule,” the Farm Bureau said in a statement, adding that a farmer’s workload is dictated by the ripening of crops and the weather, not by the days of the calendar. “If an employee is unhappy, they have every right and the ability to simply vote with their feet and leave employment, just like everyone else in today’s workplace.”
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver challenged that notion.
“It is inexcusable that in 2013 farmworkers are still excluded from some basic labor protections that are afforded to workers under the state’s labor law,” Silver said in a statement. “Farmworkers perform physically taxing, sometimes dangerous work to put food on our tables and deserve to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.”
“Contrary to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s spin, the new state budget is full of misplaced priorities and continues the assault on public services and working people. In the next few weeks New Yorkers need to see lawmakers stepping up to address the governor’s failure in many areas. It starts with the governor’s failure to commit to a future for public healthcare at Downstate Medical Center, leaving millions of people at risk. We need to see real community reinvestment in mental health services, not news-release rhetoric about “centers of excellence” that really mean more erosion of care that leaves people in need and local communities footing the bill for the administration’s irresponsibility. We also need to see real help for localities who have been hit by the double whammy of repeatedly being shortchanged by this administration while it has failed to deliver on job creation.”
—Danny Donohue (pictured), President, CSEA
“We’re working on coming up with some sort of compromise for the police and firearm binding arbitration. We’re also working on a bill, a New York version of the Davis–Bacon Act right now to make sure that there are not contractors barred from doing federal work for violations who are also barred from doing work in New York State. Those are probably the two major objectives, plus we have a number of bills that are expiring that we have to continue on with.”
—Peter Abbate, Chair, Assembly Governmental Employees Committee
“We have a month left, and I am going through the bills with my committee staff and the Speaker’s office to determine which legislation we will focus on for the rest of the session.”
—Carl Heastie, Chair, Assembly Labor Committee
“The governor took a lot of the big issues earlier this year and did them in the budget … but there’s still a lot of priority bills moving through the Labor Committee. There’s a bill that Sen. Bonacic is carrying that is very important. It would establish inspections in the elevator industry. We saw horrible examples in the past few years where people were killed by elevators that had not been inspected. We have a bill that would [bar] contractors that have labor violations in other states because we do not want bad actors coming into New York. We have the fair pay misclassification of the trucking industry. We have clear examples of employers treating truck drivers as if they were independent contractors in every way other than when it comes to paying them, so you know when you’re an employee. There’s a bill that would give farmworkers basic dignity in the workplace. It’s time. We think we may be able to finally get it done this year.”
—Diane Savino, Chair (pictured), State Senate Labor Committee
“There’s no pension smoothers, no increases in pension benefits and there’s actually no consolidation and no lessening of pensions. I would not be at all surprised that there will be stuff coming out that will not come from this committee after June 4. It will go through Rules and Finance. You’ll see the big bills that will come out. They could cover anything from A to Z. I believe the session will end on time. I don’t think there will be many large announcements over the next three or four weeks. Casinos will get done, I’m pretty sure. You’ll see some surprises but not many.”
—Martin Golden (pictured), Chair, State Senate Civil Service and Pensions Committee
“The Transport Workers Union Local 100 is looking at four issues for the remainder of the session, including a two-year extension of the binding arbitration provision of the Taylor Law, sponsored by Assemblyman Peter Abbate and state Sen. Martin Golden, and a bill that would enable military veterans who served during any period, to buy back up to three years of pension credit in public retirement systems, sponsored by Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and state Sen. William Larkin. Local 100 is further seeking a bus safety measure, mandating the installation of safety partitions on buses in New York City within the next five years, a measure sponsored by Assemblyman Walter Mosley. Also, the union supports a bill creating a New York City Transit Authority Safety Advisory panel, sponsored by Assemblyman Keith Wright and state Sen. Martin Golden, to study the impact of Station Booth closings on passengers, as well as other safety concerns.”
—TWU Local 100
“We were pleased to see this year an increase in the state’s minimum wage, but one aspect of the bill was drafted in such a way to cause great harm and needs to be amended. By subsidizing employers for the increase in the new minimum wage for workers under 20 years old, the legislation creates incentives for employers to replace older workers with younger workers and to let go workers when they reach 20 years old. At the same time, it penalizes employers for paying these teen workers even a penny above the minimum wage. Unfortunately and disgracefully, New York has become the first state in the nation to create a de facto “maximum wage” for teen workers. Furthermore, the bill transfers tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to large employers like Walmart and McDonalds. While reforming the partial unemployment insurance (UI) rule is long overdue, the main problem with the current calculation of partial UI benefits is that there is a greater incentive to collect full benefits than there is to work part-time with partial benefits. This practice prevents retail workers, under-employed after the holiday season, from collecting partial unemployment benefits even though their weekly schedules, and thus incomes, have been cut in half.”
—Stuart Appelbaum, President, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union
Tags: Andrew Cuomo, carl heastie, Catherin Nolan, CSEA, Danny Donohue, Diane Savino, Frank Sobrino, José Peralta, Martin Golden, minimum wage, New York Farm Bureau, Peter Abbate, RWDSU, Scott Reif, Sheldon Silver, Stuart Appelbaum, unemployment, workers compensation