Is another minimum wage battle coming in New York?

It's been 10 years since the fight for the $15 minimum wage was launched in New York City

It was considered a landmark proposal at the time, but now union leaders, lawmakers and advocates say that the state, which was once at the forefront of this movement, is now lagging behind other major cities.

"The rent keeps going up, the price of food keeps going up, the price of gasoline keeps going up, but our wages are not going up," state Sen. Jessica Ramos said at a rally outside New York City Hall. 

In 2016, New York started to phase in increases to the minimum wage, phasing it in more slowly for upstate compared to the city. 

NYC minimum wage

It wasn't until the beginning of 2019 that New York City workers saw their wages increase to $15 an hour. 

But many critics say this increase did not take into account inflation. 

A new bill being introduced would increase the minimum wage to $21.25 by January 2027 for the entire state. 

"There are 2 million minimum-wage workers in New York that need a raise," Strong Economy for All's Michael Kink said. "By adjusting the minimum wage for the higher cost of living and rising prices, and then indexing it going forward, we can make sure that those workers get what they need to put food on the table and pay their rent."

But many business leaders in the state are not ready to see an increase to the minimum wage any time soon. 

"This would be really devastating for small businesses," Ashley Ranslow of the National Federation of Independent Businesses said. "The costs continue to pile up and so you're going to see small businesses make some really tough decisions. Whether that means freezing hiring, layoffs, cutting hours, raising prices even further putting, more economic pressure on consumers."

The New York State Business Council also cast doubt on the effectiveness of raising the minimum wage. 

"The Business Council does not support mandated minimum wage increases at this time as they generally do not help the people they are intended to help," Business Council communications director Patrick Bailey said. "Small businesses in particular are already saddled with high unemployment taxes and other state-imposed mandates that, when faced with higher wage mandates on top of it all, force them to make tough decisions that often time result in staff reductions."

In June, we asked the Gov. Kathy Hochul in a one-on-one interview if she would be open to raising the minimum wage. At that time, Hochul said she has no plans to do so and pointed to the burden this would place on businesses. 

"Overall, we don't want to have any harder hit on the businesses — especially the small businesses — that are struggling," Hochul said. "But it's something I'm going to have a conversation about."

New York would not be the first city to raise the minimum wage due to inflation. At the beginning of 2023, Seattle will be raising its minimum wage to $18 an hour and Denver will be raising the minimum wage to $17 an hour.

A spokesperson for the governor sent an updated statement on Tuesday night saying, "Governor Hochul worked with the legislature to make historic, one-of-a-kind investments — for wage increases, bonuses for essential workers, and other initiatives — to support New York workers during a national affordability crisis. The Governor remains committed to helping workers meet the rising cost of living and will review the legislation if it passes in both houses of the legislature."

The next legislative session starts at the beginning of January 2023.