Following years of fast food worker organizing, protests, and strikes, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday announced to a cheering crowd of union members and rights campaigners that he has used his executive power to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for employees at fast food chains—and vowed to endorse making that the base wage for all workers in the state.
Cuomo revealed that the state's labor commissioner, Mario J. Musolino, signed an executive order—which does not require legislative approval—raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2018 for fast food workers at New York City chains and by 2021 for chains throughout the entire state.
"Every working man and woman in the state of New York deserves $15 an hour," the governor declared while standing alongside Vice President Joe Biden. "We're not going to stop until we get it done."
Cuomo's proposal for a statewide minimum of $15 an hour does require legislative approval in Albany. Nonetheless, the pledge itself marks a considerable shift from the governor's position just six months ago, when he said that $15 an hour is too high.
Biden praised the "profound impact" of the Fight for 15 campaign but did not pledge the participation of the Obama administration on a federal level.
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Nonetheless, low-wage workers took heart at Thursday's developments.
"Now I can see a light at the end of the tunnel," declared Rebecca Cornick, who says she makes $9 an hour at Wendy’s in Brooklyn. "A normal life is possible. A normal life, that’s all we’re asking for."
Workers across the country responded to Thursday's announcement by holding their own rallies, from San Diego to Detroit. In Chicago, fast-food workers marched to a McDonald's restaurant downtown holding signs that declared "$15 in NY! Chicago is Next!"
Numerous cities, from Los Angeles to Seattle, have already implemented plans to raise their minimum wages to $15, but so far no state has accomplished this feat. Many hope that the growing movement of fast food and other low-wage workers, backed by the Service Employees International Union, will raise continue to lift standards for all workers.
In a CNBC article published Thursday, Laura Huizar and Paul Sonn of the National Employment Law Project argued that as a result of Cuomo's announcement, "Other states will no doubt feel new pressure to put forth their own ambitious minimum wage proposals, pushing the fight for $15 to a new level and once again showing that progressive change in New York can mean progressive change for the country."