Restaurants to fight NY's $15/hr wage

ALBANY -- A national restaurant organization is challenging New York's move toward a $15-an-hour minimum wage for fast-food workers.

The National Restaurant Association filed a challenge late last week with the state Industrial Board of Appeals, asking the panel to throw out a September order from the state Department of Labor implementing a higher minimum wage at fast-food chains like McDonald's and Burger King.

Critics of the minimum-wage bump, which would gradually ramp up to $15-an-hour statewide by July 2021, faced a deadline of Monday to file an appeal. The state's current minimum wage is $8.75 an hour.

In a 26-page filing, the National Restaurant Association claims the labor department's order is a "thinly veiled attempt by Governor Cuomo" to bypass the state Legislature and enact his own policy.

"New York's robust separation-of-powers doctrine, however, does not allow for such blatant executive overreach," the association's attorneys wrote in the filing.

Cuomo in May directed then-Acting Labor Commissioner Mario Musolino to launch a Fast Food Wage Board, which was tasked with studying the industry and determine whether its workers need a higher minimum wage.

In July, the three-member board — led by Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown — recommended a $15-an-hour wage for counter-service restaurants with more than 30 locations in New York. Last month, Musolino accepted the proposal, which will incrementally increase the minimum wage over a period of 5 1/2 years.

Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Cuomo, touted the wage hike as a way to keep workers out of poverty.

"The governor's action will help lift more than 200,000 New Yorkers out of poverty and ends the backdoor corporate welfare that rewards fast food companies for paying sub-poverty wages," Azzopardi said in a statement. "It's unfortunate, but not surprising that these same corporations will be fighting to protect the status quo."

The appeal with the Industrial Board of Appeals is a precursor to a potential court battle. The state board is comprised of five members appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.

After the board rules on the appeal, the losing side would then have the option of taking it to court.

One of the main arguments advanced by the restaurant group focuses on the makeup of the board, which did not include a representative of the restaurant industry. Kevin Ryan, founder and chairman of the Gilt Groupe, was chosen as the business representative.

"The statutory representation requirement is critical — without proper representation and input from the affected industry, a wage board cannot fairly and adequately evaluate the costs, benefits, and consequences of the action it is considering," the National Restaurant Association wrote in its filing.


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