Group of county lawmakers sign petition, reject push for $15 minimum wage

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As Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo presses for a $15 minimum wage in New York by 2021, 14 Oneida County legislators have signed a petition rejecting the proposal.

“... the Oneida County Board of Legislators hereby opposes Governor Cuomo’s proposal to incrementally increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 a(n) hour,” states the petition that was circulated among members of the Board of Legislators at their monthly meeting Wednesday. It was signed by 14 of 23 members. Because a majority of the board signed, copies will be sent to the governor and other state officials. Under board rules, petitions not signed by at least a majority cannot be submitted.

​“That’s one everybody should be on,” said Majority Leader George E. Joseph, R-10, Westmoreland, when the minimum wage petition was discussed at the Republican legislative caucus prior to the board meeting. At least five petitions were being passed around for signatures this week.

The minimum wage petition cites several groups that have raised reservations about the governor’s plan or flat out oppose it, including the Empire Center, which is a conservative state-based think tank, the Healthcare Association of New York, the Oneida-Lewis ARC Chapter, and Farm Credit East.

According to the petition, reasons for opposing the higher wage include:

​-- “Passage of this legislation will force businesses, particularly small businesses, to lay off workers, reduce hours or raise prices to cover their higher labor costs.”

-- “The Oneida County Board of Legislators recognizes that increasing the minimum wage with no further breaks for small business is reckless.”

Cuomo wants a deal in place by April 1, the start of the new fiscal year. The minimum wage would grow to $15 an hour in New York City by July 2018 and statewide by July 2021. Senate Republicans, who control the upper house of the state Legislature, have expressed concerns about the proposal.

The governor outlined his plan to raise the minimum wage for all New Yorkers to $15 an hour in phases over the next six years when he released his budget in January. Cuomo bypassed the state Legislature to put in place a phased-in $15 minimum for fast-food workers at large chains. He also mandated it for state workers.

The current state minimum is $9 an hour, a rate that took effect at the end of last year. The federal minimum is $7.25.

The state Labor Department estimates that 17,856 Mohawk Valley residents are paid the $9 an hour minimum.

3M benefit from wage hike

Separately, a new study by economists at the University of California-Berkeley predicts that raising New York state’s minimum wage to $15 would improve the living standards of more than 3 million people, far outweighing what the report calls a “small” drag on employment.

The report estimates that raising the now $9-per-hour wage to $15 would give the average effected worker $4,900 more annually. It concedes that higher labor costs could slow job growth and that prices will go up somewhat, but expects those adverse effects to be tempered by benefits, including increased spending in local economies, higher productivity and less reliance on government assistance.

“A restaurant customer may pay 30 cents more for a hamburger, but the restaurant worker will get paid a whole lot more,” said Michael Reich, a Berkeley economist who was one of the report’s authors.

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