Wants $9.00 an hour salaries by end of this year
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The minimum wage in New York state is scheduled to go up to $9.00 an hour, but not until the end of 2015.
Assemblyman Joseph Lentol (D-Greenpoint-Williamsburg) said workers shouldn’t have to wait that long for the wage increase.
Lentol said he supports legislation to increase the state’s minimum wage to $9.00 an hour a full year ahead of schedule. He also supports tying future increases to inflation.
“I am confident it will pass,” Lentol told the Brooklyn Eagle in an interview on Jan. 16. “Waiting two more years to earn $9.00 an hour is a long time. It’s a long time to try and support a family on wages that leave a worker below the poverty line."
The State Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo agreed to increase last year to raise the minimum wage to $8.00 per hour starting on Dec. 31, 2013, and to subsequently increase it to $8.75 an hour at the end of 2014 and to $9.00 an hour on Dec. 31, 2015.
This new legislation, which is being promoted by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, would require the full increase to $9.00 an hour to take effect on December 31, 2014, a full year in advance. The bill also requires that future minimum wage increases be tied to the annual rate of inflation according to the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
“We should be giving people a helping hand,” Lentol told the Eagle. “We still have a lot of people who depend on food pantries to feed their families. I’ve seen a lot of senior citizens working at minimum wage jobs.”
The timing is right for accelerating the wage increase, Lentol said. “With Mayor de Blasio coming into office, there has been a lot of talk about income inequality.”
Jerry Kassar, chairman of the Brooklyn Conservative Party, said that rather than keep on raising the minimum wage, elected officials should be concentrating in strengthening the economy so that more workers can find decent paying jobs, jobs that pay far above the minimum wage.
“The key issue to the Conservative Party is the creation of jobs. Raising the minimum wage works against the creation of jobs. It takes away the business’ ability to control their bottom line,” Kassar told the Eagle. It also increases labor costs and makes employers much less likely to hire, he added.
In addition, employers tend to pass the costs onto the consumer, Kassar said. “Usually, somebody has to pay,” he said.
Instead of having the government step in to tell employers what they should pay workers, wages should be negotiated “one on one between the employer and the employee,” Kassar said.
But the key is strengthening the economy, according to Kassar. “If unemployment drops, there will be more competitiveness for labor and employers would have to offer more money in terms of salary,” he said.
Lentol said he doesn’t believe raising the minimum wage hurts a business owner’s bottom line. “We have raised it so few times. And I don’t think it affects hiring,” he said. “We have a downturn in the economy. People need help.”
“A higher minimum wage helps everyone, from workers to businesses. Putting more money into the pockets of those most likely to spend it increases demand for products, and in turn, jobs,” Lentol said.
Another piece of legislation introduced in the assembly would put an end to tax credits for employers who pay the minimum wage to students ages 16-19 years old. Lentol said that while originally intended to help offset costs associated with the minimum wage increase, the tax credits have unintentionally resulted in certain employers taking advantage of the credit by laying off older workers or only hiring younger ones.
“Taxpayer dollars should not be used to subsidize large companies who can afford to pay their workers a modest minimum wage. Repealing the tax credits will save taxpayers millions and ensure that tax incentives are used to benefit workers, not hurt them,” he said.