If both states pass their proposals, more than 5 million minimum-wage workers could see a raise, according to government estimates. Democrats might need to win the White House and both houses of Congress to enact increases at the federal level, but states and cities have been leading the way on the minimum wage for a while now.
The deal in California is “the biggest victory yet” for the Fight for 15 movement, said Kendall Fells, the campaign’s national organizing director. Momentum at the city level has been building since 2012, fueled by public pressure that included rallies and strikes by fast-food workers. Cities including Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have enacted paths to $15, and Massachusetts has moved to raise the hourly pay of home health workers to $15. In New York, fast-food workers are set to hit the target following action by the state’s wage board, which Cuomo controls.
Yet California would be the first state to enact $15 statewide across all industries—unless Cuomo can strike a deal in New York that would increase the state’s $9 minimum wage at a much faster clip. While the governor’s office told The Wall Street Journal that Brown’s announcement would not impact negotiations in Albany, a top union advocate for increasing the state’s minimum wage said otherwise. “It’s absolutely lit a fire under the negotiators,” said Michael Kink, the executive director of the Strong Economy for All Coalition, in an interview Tuesday afternoon. Kink said he expects Cuomo and legislative leaders to announce a budget deal that includes a minimum-wage increase within the next 24 to 48 hours. “There’s a competitive streak in our governor,” Kink added, in what most political observers would consider an understatement about the second-term Democrat. “I think that he intends to demonstrate national leadership.”
Unlike California, New York could create different minimum-wage time lines for New York City as compared with the rest of the state. But the Golden State proposal includes key “off ramps” that have not—thus far—been under consideration in New York. They would allow the governor to unilaterally pause or slow the yearly increases if job growth stalls or tax revenue plummets. Once the minimum hits $15, however, the governor could not lower it. “You get a big recession, and particularly in different parts of the state where wages are a lot lower, there could be real problems in terms of a reduction of jobs,” Brown said. The off ramps, as he called them, would take into account “the vagaries of the capitalistic economy.”
There were already indications on Tuesday that Republicans in New York were seizing on the fine print in the California proposal to extract concessions from Cuomo, which liberals vowed to fight. “We would oppose the kind of off ramps proposed in California, and they’re not under consideration in New York,” said Bill Lipton, the state director of the New York Working Families Party. “A $15 minimum wage is the minimum that it will take to make sure working people can support themselves and their families, and when families can not just survive but thrive, that’s good for the economy.”