While the ball was dropping in Times Square last night, the state minimum wage was rising. New York's overall hourly minimum wage went up from $8.75 to $9, and the hourly minimum wage for tipped workers rose from $5.00 to $7.50 — much to the dismay of the New York State Restaurant Association. The restaurant owners lobbying group penned a letter to Governor Cuomo earlier this week demanding that he freeze the tipped wage for five years. The missive comes just a few weeks after the National Restaurant Association filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court, claiming that Cuomo's plan to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour by 2018 is part of a longstanding pattern of discrimination "against the hard working men and women that own New York’s restaurants."
The state Labor Department approved the wage increase for tipped workers in February 2015. Since then, big-shots such as Danny Meyer and Andrew Tarlow have eliminated tipping altogether, upping menu prices to make up for the cost of increasing wages.
The Restaurant Association's letter to Cuomo was attributed to more than 100 anonymous restaurant owners. A spokesman told DNAinfo that he couldn't release the names of signatories because restaurateurs who have taken political stances in the past have received death threats.
"It’s hard to imagine any business giving half of their labor force a 50 percent raise overnight, but that’s the reality the hospitality industry is facing at the moment," New York State Restaurant Association head Melissa Fleischut said in a statement. "This increase has already forced restaurants to close, business owners to cut hours and lay people off, and made owners look to incorporate more tablets at tables; any further increase will just exacerbate these problems."
Meanwhile, some worker advocates are griping that this wage increase is inadequate, and saying that the restaurant industry should do away with tipping system altogether. ROC-United, a workers rights activist group, initially praised New York's increase to the tipped minimum wage, but has since urged the state not to leave tipped workers out of the $15 minimum wage conversation.
The Restaurant Association claims that the industry needs half a decade to adjust to this year's wage increases—for comparison, $5 in 2010 adjusted for inflation was $5.44 in 2015—but it seems unlikely that the governor will oblige. A spokesman for Cuomo told the Daily News, that "the Governor believes those who work full-time should not be condemned to a life of poverty and is proud of the steps we've taken to ensure a fair day's pay for a fair day's work."