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NY wage panel expected to recommend fast-food pay hike Wednesday

Union workers cheer as New York Governor Andrew

Union workers cheer as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks to at a rally in Union Square on May 7, 2015. Cuomo announced that he would create a so-called Wage Board, a move that could allow him to raise the minimum wage without the approval of state lawmakers. The issues surrounding minimum wage workers has become a contentious campaign issue recently with thousands of workers staging protests at fast food restaurants and other retail outlets in recent months. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt

A state panel Wednesday afternoon is expected to recommend a sizable pay raise for employees of some fast-food restaurants.

The workers and their supporters believe the state fast-food wage board will propose $15 per hour, based on the comments of two of the three board members at a meeting in Albany last month and aides to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

The board meets at 2:30 p.m. in Manhattan. The state minimum wage is now $8.75 per hour and will increase to $9 at year end.

More than 24,000 fast-food employees live on Long Island, according to the state Department of Labor.

Observers are less certain about the board's recommendations for how long it will take workers to reach the higher wage rate and what types of restaurants will be affected.

Board members last month said they wanted to offer an incentive for employers to give staff more work hours and stable schedules so that, if need be, they could easily take a second job. One proposal was to have part-time workers earn a higher wage rate than full-time workers.

Demonstrations and parties have been planned across the state on Wednesday.

In Westbury, fast-food employees and supporters of a $15-an-hour minimum wage will demonstrate in front of the McDonald's restaurant at 35 Old Country Rd. before boarding buses to attend the wage board meeting.

Modesto Martinez, an employee of Nathan's Famous hot dogs and Boston Market, said he struggles to pay rent, utility bills and help his family.

"It is not enough, the minimum wage that we have right now," he said at a public hearing last month at Nassau Community College. "It would be very important for me and for my family if they raised the wage . . . We have a great need."

Martinez said he earns $570 per week from two jobs. He has worked at Nathan's for seven years and at Boston Market for 12.

The wage board's recommendations will be sent to acting Labor Commissioner Mario J. Musolino, who has 45 days to decide whether to implement them.

Musolino appointed the board in May at the behest of Cuomo, whose plan for an across-the-board hike in the state minimum wage was blocked by the Republican majority in the State Senate.

A local senator, who requested anonymity, said last week he and some of his colleagues believe the wage board's action undercut the authority of the State Legislature. The senator also predicted Cuomo would use higher pay for fast-food workers to force the Senate to pass a minimum-wage hike for everyone.

Some franchisees of national fast-food companies have threatened lawsuits.

Melissa Fleischut, president of the state Restaurant Association, said last month that the wage board unfairly "targets a single industry." She added "any substantial raise to wages needs to be phased in over a significant amount of time to allow restaurants to prepare for a huge increase in labor costs."

The board is led by Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown with business representative Kevin Ryan of online retailer and labor representative Michael Fishman of the Service Employees International Union.

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