East End representatives disagree on proposed minimum wage increase

While state lawmakers mull increasing the minimum wage by $1.25, East End representatives in Albany are at odds on how the move would affect the local economy.

South Fork Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) is pushing legislation to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50 per hour, because he believes it will help lower-income families, he said. The bill he is co-sponsoring with Assemblyman Keith Wright (D-Harlem), also includes increasing the minimum wage for food service workers who receive tips from $5 to $5.86 per hour.

The bill was introduced in the Democratically dominated Assembly this week. If lawmakers voted strictly along party lines, the measure would pass the Assembly but fail in the Senate, where Republicans have a narrow majority.

Mr. Thiele said neighboring states, such as Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts, as well as 15 other states across the country and the District of Columbia, all have higher minimum wages than New York. The South Fork assemblyman said he believes it’s unacceptable that minimum wage in the state has only increase 10 cents per hour in the past five years.

“We must increase the minimum wage so lower-income families aren’t forced to choose between everyday necessities like rent, heat, gas, food and prescription drugs,” Mr. Thiele said. “No one who works full time should be poor and without hope.”

But North Fork Assemblyman Dan Losquadro (R-Shoreham) opposes raising the minimum wage, saying such a move would be a burden to small businesses in the current economic downturn. He also disagrees with Mr. Thiele’s reasoning to increase the minimum wage, mainly because Mr. Losquadro believes those types of jobs are mostly intended for dependent workers, such as students and part-time employees.

“I don’t agree with putting in place a minimum wage that is somehow going to provide for a certain standard of living,” Mr. Losquadro said. “These jobs aren’t intended for people to raise a family with.”

Mr. Losquadro said the move will also be detrimental to the local economy because it would force business owners to hire less employees.

Instead, he said, there should be stricter enforcement of cracking down on businesses that pay their employees off the books, which is a term to describe paying workers in cash and avoiding paying taxes typically taken out of payroll.

“This will drive an underground economy where more businesses will look to pay people off the books,” he said, adding that he would expect worker exploitation to increase as well.

Janine Nebons, general manager at the Tanger Outlet Center in Riverhead and president of the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce, said in an email she couldn’t comment on the proposed legislation because Chamber officials haven’t reviewed the bill, but did say: “At the current minimum wage rate of $7.25, a full-time employee is making $15,000. We know that it is impossible to raise a family on Long Island making that wage.”

Mr. Thiele said raising the minimum wage will create a positive ripple effect in the local economy. He added the top three industries that saw growth nationwide in recent years were retail sales employees, cashiers and food preparation workers, which are predominately minimum-wage jobs.

“With income inequality increasing, it’s vital that we rekindle the spirit of shared prosperity and the dignity of hard work,” Mr. Thiele said.

If approved, the new wages would go into affect next year and then would be linked to the rate of inflation beginning in 2014.

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