The fight to raise pay for the city's fast food employees ended in victory Wednesday after the New York State Wage Board unanimously recommended a $15 minimum wage, implemented gradually, for more than 60,000 workers.
A crowd of workers, fair wage advocates and elected officials erupted into applause outside 90 Church Street, where the three-member board made its decision, which was broadcast on a big screen set up on a stage in the street.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo created the board in May, following months of protests from workers who sought help to the growing income inequality situation.
"They are recognizing us because we speak so loudly. We're trying to make our voices be heard," said Edica Reese, 26, a single mother from Harlem who works at a McDonald's
Restaurant groups, however, are critical of the increase and say owners will pay a heavy burden that will hurt the state's economy.
"Governor Cuomo has sent his message loud and clear: New York is NOT open for business," the "Save NY restaurants coalition," a group of restaurant owners, said in a statement.
The board's recommendations to acting labor Commissioner Mario J. Musolino call for hourly wages in fast food chain restaurants in the state to rise from $8.75, the current minimum wage, to
$15 for New York City workers by 2018. That level will reached by 2021 for the other New York fast food employees.
Musolino can raise the minimum wage without the legislature's approval and has up to 45 days after the board's report is filed to act on its recommendation, which he is likely to approve.
"It's not just good for the workers, it's good for the state," said Wage Board member Mike Fishman.
The increases, which would apply to chains with more than 30 locations nationwide, will come in phases starting with $10.50 an hour on Dec. 31, followed by $12 an hour one year later, then $13.50 on Dec. 31, 2017 and finally $15 on Dec. 31, 2017.
"Businesses will be able to digest this in an orderly manner," said board member Kevin Ryan, the chairman and founder of Gilt.com, which offers deals on designer items.
The board members said they were moved by the numerous stories they've heard over the last two months from workers who were struggling with the long hours and low pay despite the chains' huge profits.
Rebecca Cornick, 61, of East New York, who's worked at Wendy's for nine years, said she comes up short each month on rent.
"I'm really hopeful they would vote in our favor," she said before the vote. "They heard what we have to deal with and understand it's hard."
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, meanwhile, also voted to raise the county's minimum wage to $15 an hour Tuesday.
Mayor Bill de Blasio praised decision and said he would help push the state to update minimum wage rates across the board.
"It's long past time for New York to catch up with the times and raise the wage -- because it's vital to lifting New Yorkers out of poverty and moving our economy forward," he said in a statement.
Cuomo joined the rally after the vote to express his support for the raise and received a huge applause from the workers and elected officials.
"This isn't about wage wars and hearings and boards ... it is about who we are as New Yorkers and what we believe. And what we believe is that there should be opportunity for all," he said. "You cannot live and raise a family on $18,000 a year in New York, period."
However, not everyone rejoiced at the news. Heather Briccetti, president and CEO of The Business Council of New York State, said in a statement that the recommendation "may momentarily appease the advocates, but it is contrary to the need for long term job growth in New York State."
Randy Mastro, a former deputy mayor who represents a coalition of restaurants opposed to the hike, said the governor and board singled out the fast food industry in their attempts to solve income inequality.
"This proposal is an irrational and discriminatory race to judgment to achieve a predetermined outcome," he said in a statement.
Cuomo dismissed what he called "idle threats," saying "you know that's always the threat of business: if you make me raise the wage, I'll reduce workers, but you know McDonald's and Burger King, these companies they have to have someone on the other side of the counter running things."