Assemblywoman Proposes Regional Minimum Wage Rates

One week ahead of the deadline for lawmakers to agree on a state budget, the debate over raising New York's minimum wage remains one of the most contentious issues. TWC News' Matt Hunter has a closer look at some of the different proposals still being discussed.

ALBANY, N..Y – As groups like Citizen Action of New York rallied across the state in support of Governor Cuomo's $15-an-hour minimum wage proposal Thursday, the New York Farm Bureau remains steadfastly against any hike, even if the agriculture industry would be allowed to set a lower rate.

"Farmers have to compete with the other businesses for quality and skilled workers and there is no way they can offer lower wages and still expect to find employees,” Farm Bureau Public Affairs Manager Steve Ammerman said.

The proposal to raise the state's minimum wage rate, which currently sits at $9 an hour, is one of the more fiercely debated issues currently front of the legislature. Despite the challenges, on Wednesday, leaders said negotiations were progressing.

"Clearly, we have differences that I think at the end of the day will be resolved in an amicable and timely fashion," Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said during a joint press conference he held with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

"We recognize that people who are trying to make a living on minimum wage are falling further and further behind,” Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner said Thursday. “We also recognize that our regional economy cannot sustain a jump of 67 percent over a five-year period in the cost of labor."

Noting that New York is economically diverse, Woerner, a Democrat from Round Lake, is drafting legislation that would institute different minimum wage rates in each region of the state.

"What it takes to live on a basic living in New York City is far different than what it is in Argyle, N.Y.,” Woerner said.

Under Woerner's proposal, which sets the minimum wage at 75 percent of the local cost of living, New York City would see the state's highest rate at $16.50 an hour, while Western New York's would be the lowest at $10.75, with the Capital Region near the middle at $12.

"That is our proposal, basically, that we regionalize the economy," she said.

As protestors both for and against the increase continue to lobby lawmakers, there are those on both sides of the debate who oppose Woerner's regional strategy and believe a one-size-fits-all approach is best.

"We believe everyone needs a living wage, and we think the bottom of that would be $15 an hour," said Mark Emanation, a Capital Region organizer with Citizen Action of New York.

"Any increase in the minimum wage is only going to make it more difficult for our farmers to compete and sell their products and be able to pay their employees that they have right now," Ammerman said.

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