ALBANY — New York’s main farmer lobby and a small business advocate are headed for a state house spat with progressive groups pushing for a measure that could raise the Upstate region’s minimum wage to $20 an hour by 2026.
The bill, introduced by progressive Democrats in both houses of the legislature, aims to preserve the purchasing power of workers’ wages without the need for additional legislative action when incomes are being eroded by inflation.
Gov. Kathy Hochul signaled her support for linking the state minimum wage to a cost-of-living index in her state of the state address. The Hochul government is expected to outline how its plan would work when the proposed state budget is released. Lawmakers must draft a new spending plan by March 31 to be on time for the federal fiscal year that begins April 1.
Hochul said inflation has brought many New York families to the “point of stress,” arguing that offering workers an annual review of New York’s minimum wage is “a matter of fairness and social justice.”
She drew cheers from many lawmakers after pocketing inflation-indexed minimum wage increases.
On Tuesday, Jeff Williams, Legislative Director of the New York Farm Bureau, said fighting for the minimum wage in 2023 will be a top priority for his organization.
“Now we’re apparently going to go above $15 an hour when we haven’t even hit $15 (upstate), and so the New York minimum wage would end up being double the Pennsylvania minimum wage,” Williams said.
When farmers’ labor costs skyrocket because of a higher wage, they have to absorb it out of their own money because market forces push up the prices of what their farms produce, he said.
“This would continue to make New York uncompetitive to competing states,” Williams said.
The minimum wage in Pennsylvania is now $10 an hour, while the minimum wage in New York state was raised to $14.20 an hour on December 31.
A study by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank, predicted that 2.9 million New York workers would benefit from the legislation pushed by Senator Jessica Ramos, D-Queens, the chair of the Senate Working Committee, and receive annual pay rises averaging $3,307 , if the proposal is accepted.
Ronald Deutsch, director of New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, said it will be difficult for lawmakers to reject what they call a necessary increase in the statewide minimum wage after they voted to increase their own pay in a rare Christmas week meeting last month by $32,000 annually, bringing the current base salary for the 213 members to $142,000.
Michael Kink, executive director of Strong Economy for All, a worker-supported group campaigning for progressive action at the statehouse, said his organization is working to move the Ramos Act forward, noting that it’s not just the increased cost of living, but would also examine the increase in worker productivity.
“We should have a wage that fully reflects the increased cost of living, and we shouldn’t lock in on poverty wages,” Kink said. “We should make sure that people earn enough to live on.”
Ashley Ranslow, executive director of the New York office of the National Federation of Independent Business, said linking the New York minimum wage to inflation will have unforeseen consequences, including requiring employers to reduce workers’ hours and raising prices for goods and services Buy New Yorkers, including low-income workers.
“We’ve already seen unprecedented price increases and supply chain issues,” Ranslow said. “There is certainly a strong possibility that this will further increase the price of goods and services. And there’s going to be a point where consumers will be like, ‘Do I have the money to buy this?’”
She said annual increases in the state minimum wage would compound small business owners’ headaches and likely provoke labor disputes when workers earning several dollars an hour above minimum wage find workers with relatively little experience suddenly matching their pay scale.
Both Senate GOP Leader Rob Ortt, R-Niagara County, and Republican Assembly Chairman Will Barclay, R-Pulaski have signaled their opposition to the inflation-indexed approach to additional minimum wage increases.