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New year means 15 dollars an hour for workers in New York City

January 2, 2019 1 1 No Comments

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This new year, minimum wage workers in New York City will receive a long-awaited salary bump to 15 dollars an hour. Every small victory matters in a city where the average monthly rent increased by nearly 10 percent over the course of just the last year, and the two-dollar hourly increase from the current 13 dollar minimum wage was celebrated by labor unions and progressive activists who continue to push for higher pay across industries.

New York state as a whole is increasing its minimum wage, but the 15 dollars an hour in New York City will be its highest. Even there, the increase will be tiered based on the size of the business: small companies with less than 11 employees will see a smaller increase from a minimum wage that was already lower than the existing 13 dollars. Major corporations, most notably the city’s numerous fast food locations, will be the first to meet the full increase on the last day of 2018. When the new year’s wage increases fully set in, state officials estimate that 900,000 people will be earning the new 15 dollars an hour.

It’s the third consecutive year that New York has raised its minimum wage, after lawmakers in Albany, the state capital, decided in 2016 to aim for a statewide 15-dollar minimum by 2021. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has increased wages piecemeal, industry by industry, over the course of his tenure, celebrated the latest increase by the state legislature. “By raising the minimum wage, New York has once again set an example that the rest of the country should follow — a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work and bringing economic justice to people in this state,” a spokesman for his office said in a statement.

The new wage is part of an increasingly successful push around the country for higher wages, a movement which has made tentative gains in recent years. In addition to sporadic legislative victories, activists led by political figures like Senator Bernie Sanders have forced industry titans to cave under the weight of public pressure. The most recent and widely publicized example of this is Amazon, who pushed its own company-wide minimum wage up to 15 dollars (in the United States), just before it announced the construction of a new headquarters in New York City.

The move by the state legislature is a blow to major corporations, who’ve lobbied for years to keep worker pay down and argue that the market itself — that is, company CEOs — should determine employee pay. Until recently, these corporate efforts were generally successful: in 2013, minimum wage in New York City was still 7.25 dollars an hour. Some small business owners, too, argue that the new wage will make it more difficult for them to operate, a recognized problem that accounts in part for the tiered and industry-specific structure of the scheduled increases. “The general sense is that the fears of what a higher minimum wage might have done to business were exaggerated,” said Jacob Vigdor, a professor at the University of Washington who has been studying the recent increases around the country. Vigdor pointed to San Francisco and Seattle as examples, suggesting that the results were positive, but qualified. “I think it’s also fair to say the hopes of what a minimum wage might have done to workers were also exaggerated.” Vigdor cited potential cutbacks and price increases as the negative results of the new standard.

In December, amidst the countdown to the new, general minimum wage, New York City also became the first city in the country to set a minimum wage for ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft — companies that get away with skirting industry employment regulations by dishonestly classifying their drivers as independent contractors. The move was celebrated by workers and scorned by company executives. A spokesman for Uber said it would lead to “higher than necessary costs” for riders. The company itself is worth some 70 billion dollars, with a former CEO — who resigned in disgrace — having been worth something along the lines of 6 billion.

“New York City is once again passing landmark regulation to protect workers in the unruly gig economy,” said the New York Taxi Workers Alliance in a statement. The new hourly wage for these drivers will be just over 17.22 dollars.

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