With $15 per hour in sight, minimum wages tick up

Pay up: Long Island's new minimum wage is $13 per hour, while some New York State minimum-wage rates have climbed to $15 per hour.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

The New Year brings new minimum wages across New York State, including a $15-per-hour top tier that bests any state-sanctioned minimum wage in the country.

Not every minimum-wage New Yorker will earn that premier paycheck, thanks to Albany’s sliding-scale approach to wage hikes, a wonder wheel of wages that, as of 2019, extends that $15 rate to employees of small firms (10 employees or fewer) in New York City.

Big NYC employers (11 workers or more) hit $15 in 2018, becoming the first bloc of New York State employers to reach the highwater mark of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s General Minimum Wage Rate Schedule, which started rolling in 2016.

Long Island and Westchester employers (of all sizes) aren’t scheduled to reach the $15-per-hour plateau until 2021. As of 2019, employers in Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk counties are required to pay a minimum wage of $13 per hour.

The “remainder of New York State workers” – those outside of New York City, Long Island and Westchester – are now entitled to earn $11.80 per hour.

Andrew Cuomo: And “economic justice” for all.

Compared to minimum wages in other national corners, those numbers are all relatively high (Wyoming mandates a statewide minimum wage of $5.15 per hour, with no increases in sight). But certain factors conspire to reduce New York’s statewide average.

For instance, tipped food-service workers – wait staff at non-fast food restaurants, an enormous minimum-wage subset – are only entitled to $7.50 per hour across much of the state ($8 on Long Island, up to $10 in NYC).

The machinations tend to murk up the numbers, and determining New York State’s annual minimum-wage average can be difficult. As of Jan. 1, 2018, Statista.com placed the NYS average at $10.40 per hour; as of 2019, the National Conference of State Legislatures figures New York’s average at $11.10 per hour, and Minimum-Wage.org concurs.

A $15 per hour state minimum wage would easily lead the country – the District of Columbia held the 2018 honors at $13.25 per hour, with its minimum wage set to increase in July to $14 per hour.

But that $11.10 average trails California, Massachusetts and Washington State (each mandates a minimum of $12 per hour), and as of July will also trail Oregon ($11.25 per hour).

Although a handful of other states are increasing their minimum wages at a slightly faster clip, “New York State is leading the way fighting for economic justice,” according to Cuomo, who introduced his sliding-scale wage-increase plan – with the ultimate goal of a statewide $15-per-hour minimum – as part of the 2016-17 state budget process.

“We will always stand with the working women and men of New York,” Cuomo said this week. “With this historic minimum-wage increase, we have taken another step forward in the fight for the dignity and respect of hardworking families.”

The Long Island minimum wage, which covers both large- and small-scale employers, has increased more than 40 percent since Cuomo kicked off his sweeping push for “economic justice.” In 2015, the statewide minimum wage – including Long Island – was $9 per hour, though employees of fast food chains were entitled to a slightly higher rate ($9.75 statewide, $10.50 in NYC).

With Long Island’s $13 rate and other sliding-scale increases taking effect in this New Year, state officials are also reminding minimum-wage workers to keep a close eye on their paychecks. Albany has engaged a public awareness campaign – including television and radio advertisements, all sharing Albany’s Wage Theft Hotline (1-888-4-NYSDOL) – to ensure employers fulfill the new mandates.

Lieutenant Gov. Kathy Hochul trumpeted the awareness campaign and the new minimum-wage levels as examples of Albany’s “progressive values” and “our efforts to enhance quality of life.”

“Everyone has a right to a decent living wage, and no one working 40 or more hours a week should be living in poverty,” Hochul said in a statement. “In New York, we believe in economic fairness and justice for all, and we will not stop fighting to ensure equal opportunities for everyone.”