Lawmakers push to raise wages at biggest chains
NEW YORK — A group of Democratic lawmakers from New York City on Wednesday announced a new push to raise the minimum wage for many low-paid workers, calling for a $15-an-hour “fair wage” for employees of McDonald’s and Wal-Mart and other businesses with yearly sales of $50 million or more.
“We shouldn’t have the largest, most profitable companies be the ones that most squeeze their workers,” state Sen. Daniel L. Squadron said at a news conference on the steps of City Hall.
Squadron’s bill, whose backers include state Sen. Liz Krueger of Manhattan and Assemblywoman Nily Rozic of Queens, would also apply to chain stores and restaurants with at least 11 locations nationwide, including their franchisees, and businesses involved with transportation like subcontractors at airports. Manufacturers would be exempt.
The bill will face an uphill climb in Albany, where the Legislature last year approved letting the minimum wage rise to $9 an hour. This year, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, and legislative leaders quickly shot down a proposal by Mayor Bill de Blasio to let New York City set its own minimum wage.
A spokesman for Sen. Dean G. Skelos, R-Long Island, who shares control of the Senate with Jeffrey D. Klein, D-Bronx, said Skelos opposed Squadron’s bill. Spokesmen for Cuomo, Klein and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver all said they would review it.
Squadron, who represents parts of Brooklyn and lower Manhattan, said that he also supported raising the minimum wage, but that fast-food restaurants and big box stores were in a particularly good position to pay higher wages.
“These aren’t those small businesses that are just barely getting by,” he said.
Krueger, a co-sponsor of the bill, said that even if raising wages caused big chain stores to raise prices, that could help small businesses to compete with them.
“Because they so underprice everyone else in the world, because they pay slave wages, they’ve actually been closing down mom-and-pop stores and Main Streets in towns all over the state,” Krueger said.
Business leaders, however, were sharply critical. Kathryn S. Wylde, the president and chief executive officer of the Partnership for New York City, said that the bill reflected a lack of understanding of the economics of running a franchise.
“They tend to be family-owned businesses, and a small franchise often doesn’t have the margins to even support a family,” Wylde said. “I think there may be a lack of understanding of how narrow the margins are in these franchise businesses, and I would like to see a study and analysis with industry input, before the legislators go off kind of half-cocked to legislate in an area where I doubt they have the information they need to write a sound bill.”
The bill draws inspiration from a national movement by fast-food workers to demand higher wages. Last year, fast-food workers in many cities organized one-day strikes to call for a wage increase to $15 an hour.