New York to Hike Minimum Wage, Mandate Family Leave

A budget deal reached in Albany between New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and state legislators on Thursday will bring New York City’s minimum wage up to $15 an hour by the end of 2018, along with lower and slower increases in other parts of the state, the New York Times reports:

Long Island and Westchester County will not reach a $15 wage for nearly six years; … in areas north of Westchester, the minimum wage — now $9 — will rise by 70 cents a year over the next five years, eventually hitting $12.50 by the end of 2020, though the governor said it would continue to rise toward $15, depending on its economic impact. Indeed, in announcing the wage increase and brokering a deal with Senate Republicans, Mr. Cuomo seemed to be treading a fine line between confidence that $15 would eventually be reached statewide and cautioning that the wage could be suspended if it was determined to be hurting the economy.

The plan also included other caveats: Businesses with 10 or fewer employees will have nearly four years to institute the wage increase in New York City. In describing a so-called safety valve, the governor explained how the wage’s move toward the $15 benchmark upstate would be determined by state labor and budget analysts — both parts of the executive branch — who would review the wage’s economic impact using studies conducted beginning in 2019. The state would then use that information to plan increases in the upstate wage — or to suspend the increase temporarily, statewide, depending on economic data.

The agreement also includes a provision that will eventually mandate “12 weeks of paid time off to care for newborns or sick relatives and for families dealing with military deployments”:

Under the family leave plan, agreed to by Senator John J. Flanagan, the Long Island Republican who serves as the majority leader, and Carl E. Heastie, the speaker of the Democrat-dominated Assembly, state residents will be eligible for such leave starting in 2018 after working for six months at a job. The leave would eventually be extended to 12 weeks, and would be funded by deductions from employees’ pay.

New York’s minimum wage move comes just days after California announced a plan to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour statewide by 2022. As Jeanne Sahadi notes at CNN Money, New York was already tiptoeing towards a major minimum wage hike, and other states and localities may be heading there as well:

New York state already requires large food franchises to move toward paying its fast-food workers at least $15 per hour. And Governor Cuomo recently mandated the same for state university workers. New York and California aren’t the only places moving toward a $15 minimum wage. Both New Jersey and the District of Columbia may include a $15 minimum wage proposal on upcoming ballots. And several U.S. cities and counties, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle, have already approved a $15 minimum.

The Washington Post reports that Montgomery County, Maryland is also considering a bill that would introduce a $15 minimum wage.

The decision to raise the minimum at different rates for different parts of the state reflects the vast economic difference between New York City—a global financial capital—and much less wealthy areas of upstate New York. Upstate legislators don’t agree, however, on whether the lower rate was the right idea, Reuters reports:

The compromise is a climb down for Cuomo and his fellow Democrats who had pushed for a $15 state-wide minimum and no carve outs for small businesses. Republicans argued that a flat statewide rate could hurt businesses in less wealthy areas. “It may not go to $15. There’s no guarantee, that’s the good thing,” said Senator George Amedore, a Republican representing a constituency upstate, who commented on the agreement to Reuters.

Phil Steck, a Democratic Party assembly member, who represents a district 165 miles north of the city, argued that the opposite was true, and a lower minimum wage would be a blow to the upstate economy. “We have a very strapped economy in upstate New York and the surest way to ensure continued poverty is to run a low wage economy,” he said. “If anything, the poorer areas of the state needed an increase in the minimum wage more.”

The new family leave policy is nothing to sneeze at, either, as far as employees are concerned. Rebecca Traister at New York Magazine’s The Cut praises it as one of the most progressive parental leave mandates in the country:

New York has just become the fifth state — after California, which passed its family-leave insurance program in 2002 and implemented it in 2004, New Jersey (2009), Rhode Island (2014) and Washington (which passed its measure in 2007 but has not yet put it into effect) — to mandate paid leave. And compared to its progressive predecessors, New York’s bill is startlingly robust.

The program will mandate up to 12 weeks of paid time off from a job to bond with a new child (including adopted or foster children), or to care for a gravely ill parent, child, spouse, domestic partner, or other family member. The duration of the leave, while still far from the 40 weeks guaranteed in the U.K. or even the 16 weeks provided in Bangladesh, doubles the 6 weeks allotted in California and New Jersey, and triples the 4 weeks of paid leave offered by Rhode Island.