State’s new minimum wage kicks in

New York's new minimum wage varies considerably by location and vocation.
More than 1,000 people march for labor unions demanding a rise in minimum wage to $15 an hour in New York, April 15, 2016.
More than 1,000 people march for labor unions demanding a rise in minimum wage to $15 an hour in New York, April 15, 2016.
With the new year comes a larger paycheck for New Yorkers at the bottom of the pay scale.
Thanks to changes enacted last year, the New York state minimum wage now varies considerably by location and vocation — from $7.35 to $12 — but for most workers in the Capital Region, it is $9.70 per hour, a 7.7 percent increase from the $9 per hour mandated through Dec. 30. That’s an extra $28 in gross pay for a 40-hour week, or $388 total.
The minimum wage in upstate New York will continue to increase by 70 cents each Dec. 31 through 2020, when it will hit $12.50 an hour, then increase by a varying percentage annually thereafter. It’s part of the march toward a $15-per-hour minimum wage the state undertook last year, though not all of the state is marching at the same rate:
— The minimum in Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk counties is now $10 per hour and will hit $15 the last day of 2021. 
— The minimum for small New York City workplaces (10 or fewer workers) is now $10.50 and will hit $15 the last day of 2019. 
— The minimum for larger New York City workplaces is now $11 and will hit $15 the last day of 2018.
— The minimum for New York City employees of fast food chains is now $12 and will hit $15 the last day of 2018.
Then there are the clauses, provisions and exclusions that bring the minimum wage up for some workers and down for others. For upstate New York — everything north and west of Westchester County — these are some of the exceptions:
— Fast food workers now get a minimum wage of $10.75 per hour — but only if their employer is part of a chain of 30 or more locations.
— Workers in the hospitality industry have a minimum wage that ranges from $7.35 to $9.70 depending on what setting they work in, how much they receive in tips and how much of their workday they spend doing work that might generate tips.
— Employees of government entities are not covered by the state minimum wage law, unless they do non-teaching work for a school district or BOCES, in which case they are covered by the state minimum wage law.
The state Department of Labor provides an online question-and-answer-powered calculator that anyone confused by all these new provisions and exclusions will find helpful.
Mark Eagan, CEO of the Capital Region Chamber, said the new wage increase came too closely on the heels of the last state increase and is affecting the food and retail industry significantly, given their reliance on low-wage workers. But more heavily impacted are non-profit agencies, he said — and “not just our smaller non-profits.”
“Where do they make it up?” Eagan said. “It’s not like other places where they can just charge more money. Who does a non-profit charge?”
Then there is the complicated nature of the wage hike, which can be as much of an issue for employers as the wage hike itself.
“This is another example of New York state making it difficult for small business owners to operate and succeed,” said Zack Hutchins, a spokesman for the Business Council of New York State. He said most small businesses don’t have a human-resources department with the time and expertise to figure out complicated wage schedules.
“Just keeping on top of these changes is difficult,” he added. “If mistakes are made, [one could] virtually guarantee it’s not due to any ill intent.”
The Council conducts extensive outreach for this reason and maintains a dedicated human resources hot line, Hutchins said. It has also been conducting monthly webinars for nearly a year, with New York’s minimum wage increases and new paid family leave rules a recurring topic.
The annual minimum wage increases will affect numerous Capital Region residents, if not immediately, then in the near future:
— The state Department of Labor estimates that 134,319 people earn less than $15 per hour in the Capital Region, which it defines as Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren and Washington counties.
— It estimates there are 50,929 such people in the Mohawk Valley, which it defines as Fulton, Herkimer, Montgomery, Oneida, Otsego and Schoharie counties.
To make sure the transition is easy for workers, and to make sure employers follow through on it, the state Monday announced formation of a minimum wage task force consisting of more than 200 people from multiple state agencies that will perform outreach to employers and employees, and take enforcement action against any employers who aren’t paying workers the full wage their particular circumstances call for.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo called The Enforcement and Outreach Unit the first of its kind in the nation.
Employers are subject to a fine of $3 for every hour that they fail to pay the proper minimum wage to an employee, plus back wages, plus damages, plus 100 percent civil penalties.
The state Department of Labor can conduct an audit of an employer’s entire workforce and payroll.
As it holds out the threat of penalties for not complying, the Governor’s Office said the state also is reaching out to employers to help them comply: The Enforcement and Outreach Unit will conduct training sessions and webinars on the regulations to help employers determine the correct minimum pay rate for their workers. It also will work with regional chambers of commerce; organizations such as business improvement districts; labor unions; industry groups; and worker advocacy groups.
Eagan said the state outreach program effort is oddly timed: “I couldn’t believe this week the administration announced the staff was going to go out and do seminars on it,” he said. “Isn’t that a little late?”
The Chamber for weeks has been educating its members on their responsibilities under the “confusing” minimum wage schedule, Eagan said, in part using an online calculator the New York State Restaurant Association created for its members.
Spokesman Jay Holland said the Restaurant Association has not yet heard a lot of feedback about the wage itself — “It’s really early to say what effect it’s going to have,” he said — but has received a lot of requests for help.
“Most calls and questions have been compliance,” Holland said. “Everybody is just trying to figure what wages they are supposed to pay.”
Elsewhere across the United States, the federal minimum wage has stood at $7.25 per hour since July 2009, but states are free to set their own wages, and some cities have done so as well. Where there is more than one wage in place, the highest one becomes the official minimum wage for that location. 
Eagan predicts that some jobs will be lost and some prices increased as a result of the latest minimum wage hike. 
“I think only time will tell: Is it truly going to help the people it was designed to help?”

What does the minimum wage mean to you?

The Gazette wants to hear about the local impact of the minimum wage increase. Minimum-wage workers in the Capital Region can describe their experiences living on less than $400 a week; employers can describe their experiences meeting rising payroll expenses for their minimum-wage employees. Email both to Gazette Business Editor John Cropley at [email protected] for possible inclusion in a future story on the subject.

Categories: -News-, Business, Schenectady County

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