Testimony to Wage Board regarding study of “fast food worker” pay

Published on June 22nd, 2015

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Hon. Byron Brown
Kevin Ryan
Mike Fishman
NYS Department of Labor

ATTN:  Wage Board

Bldg. 12, Room 586
Harriman State Office Campus
Albany, NY  12240

June 22, 2015

Dear Wage Board Members:

On behalf of the NYS Council of Catholic Charities Directors, I submit this testimony in connection with the Governor’s charge to this Wage Board to study and report to the State Labor Commissioner whether certain workers should receive an increase above the current minimum wage.  It should be noted that at the outset there is no New York State codified definition of “fast food workers,” so who is to be included or excluded from consideration will need to be clarified.

The primary issue relates to singling out fast food workers over other segments of the working population, including human services workers. These essential workers are people who provide services and supports to our most vulnerable residents of New York State – those with developmental disabilities, mental health needs, substance use disorders, and physical frailties.

This sector already competes for workers with the fast food industry where the rate of pay is generally comparable.  Because human services jobs involve unique pressures/risks not found elsewhere, these fields regrettably have seen many employees leave to take positions in other industries, including food services.  Indeed, as evidenced by the Governor’s creation of a Justice Center for oversight and regulation of those who work with vulnerable populations, human services workers have unique challenges and responsibilities that should be factored into any assessment of appropriate compensation levels.

The creation of a disparity in the minimum wage by which human services workers would fall behind other employment sectors could have serious unintended consequences.  The human services sector is already struggling to maintain its workforce and provide the high quality direct services that New York State vulnerable residents so rely upon and deserve.  Such a disparity would further strain recruitment and retention of qualified staff.

In accordance with the statement of the Acting Labor Commissioner that 60 percent of fast food workers also received at least one public assistance benefit, it is incumbent upon this Board to assess the impact of any wage increase on the eligibility for public benefits, in order to determine whether the workers are indeed better off.  Since eligibility criteria for public benefits are interrelated, wages alone cannot be viewed in isolation.

For years, human services advocates have called for annual trend adjustments in our New York State funded contracts, only to be told to wait.  Should this Board determine that the State’s minimum wage is insufficient, commensurate adjustments for those who provide New York’s care to vulnerable populations will need to be funded.  Furthermore, the resulting compression issue will also need to be addressed in order to avert the negative impact upon recruitment and retention of experienced workers.

It would be unjust to pit one segment of the workforce against another.  Let’s work together to forge a united front to provide fair wages to all in our State, so that everyone can have an equal opportunity to succeed.

Sincerely,

Michael A. Lawler
Executive Director
Council of Catholic Charities Directors

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