Governors of N.Y., California approve $15 minimum wage hikes; states differ on tipped workers

NEW YORK,  The governors of New York and California on Monday approved measures that will eventually boost minimum wage in those states to $15 per hour.

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed bills as part of the 2016-17 state budget that will ultimately push the minimum wage to that level.

“By moving to a $15 statewide minimum wage and enacting the strongest paid family leave policy in the nation, New York is showing the way forward on economic justice,” Cuomo said. “These policies will not only lift up the current generation of low-wage workers and their families, but ensure fairness for future generations and enable them to climb the ladder of opportunity.”

New York’s minimum wage will gradually increase over the next decade, due to the new measures, which also include 12 weeks of paid family leave — the longest and most comprehensive leave plan in the nation, according to Cuomo.

It is estimated that more than 2.3 million people will be affected by the increases in the minimum wage, Cuomo’s office said.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, a former senator representing New York, also attended the signing event Monday.

California Gov. Jerry Brown also signed legislation Monday to boost his state’s minimum wage to similar levels in the coming decade.

“This is about economic justice, it’s about people,” Brown said, adding that California is the first state in the nation to commit to a $15 minimum hourly wage. “This is an important day, it’s not the end of the struggle but it’s a very important step forward.”

“Minimum wage will rise to $10.50 per hour on January 1, 2017 for businesses with 26 or more employees, and then rise each year until reaching $15 per hour in 2022,” Brown’s office said in a statement Monday.

Like New York’s legislation, the wage increase will occur over a period of years — and include safety measures intended to re-calibrate the plan if negative economic factors arise.

“The legislation increases the minimum wage over time, consistent with economic expansion, while providing safety valves – known as ‘off-ramps’ – to pause wage hikes if negative economic or budgetary conditions emerge,” Brown’s office said. “The Governor can act by September 1 of each year to pause the next year’s wage increase for one year if there is a forecasted budget deficit or poor economic conditions.”

“I commend Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state of New York for taking the historic step of creating a paid family leave program in the state and raising its minimum wage to support New York’s working families,” President Barack Obama said in a statement Monday. “This action means more parents won’t have to choose between their job and caring for their new children. It means more workers can earn a higher wage to help make ends meet.

“Now Congress needs to act to raise the federal minimum wage and expand access to paid leave for all Americans.”

Perhaps the most significant point of debate on the matter involves tipped workers — such as those in the food service industry who work for a wage far below the minimum, but whose gratuities push them beyond the state- or federally-mandated threshold.

California’s bill fully applies to tipped workers. New York’s does not. As the Empire State’s minimum wage increases to $15 by 2020, tipped workers will only be guaranteed $10 per hour by that time, before gratuities. In Upstate New York, it will rise to only $8.45, due largely to the lower cost of living.

The measures in both states follow a nationwide push for higher minimum wages in recent years.

Some business owners and corporate executives, though, fear that pushing the minimum so far might backfire — as businesses may simply downsize staff to help offset the burdens from the hiked wage.

Since July 2009, the federal minimum wage has been $7.25. However, individual states and territories have the authority to set their own minimum wages, so long as it meets the federal threshold.

UPI