Possible fast-food wage increase raises concerns from local franchises, eateries

Jreck Subs employee Kennedie Brown works on assembling an order of sandwiches at the franchise’s Adams location. Photo by Amanda Morrison, Watertown Daily Times.

Jreck Subs employee Kennedie Brown works on assembling an order of sandwiches at the franchise’s Adams location. Photo by Amanda Morrison, Watertown Daily Times.

WATERTOWN — The hourly wage of a cashier at McDonald’s soon could be equal to that of a Watertown paramedic.

David C. Roof, president of the Town of Watertown Ambulance Service Inc., said the average hourly wage of the service’s paramedics is about $15. The new minimum fast food wage proposed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo would match that.

Considering the hours of constant training and danger paramedics are subjected to while on the job, Mr. Roof said giving fast food workers the same pay is unfair.

“I don’t want to take anything away from those people in fast food, but I think the government should take a look at the people who save lives on the street and are in danger all the time,” Mr. Roof said.

Gov. Cuomo has been pushing for a $15-per-hour fast food wage since May, and a decision to implement the wage is expected to come Wednesday.

The statewide minimum wage will increase from $8.75 to $9 by the end of the year. Gov. Cuomo had proposed raising the state minimum wage to $10.50 but was denied by the Legislature. This new move, however, can work around the Legislature’s involvement. Under state labor law, Gov. Cuomo is allowed to designate a wage board to propose an increase for a specific industry, and the board can institute changes without the Legislature’s approval.

The wage board held hearings throughout June to hear testimony from workers, politicians and activists supporting the increased wage.

Michael J. Nuwer, chairman of SUNY Potsdam’s Applied Research Department, said minimum wage increases generally do not affect employment if wages encompass all jobs. However, giving an increase to a certain industry will cause more people to leave other jobs still at the $8.75 level.

“The fast-food industry is going to attract away from lower-wage sectors. So those sectors that don’t have their wages up to the $15, they’re going to have higher turnover.”

Dray Ramsey, assistant manager of the Subway shop on Public Square, said higher pay would be a good incentive for workers.

“It’s an extra two or three bucks, which is motivating for some people,” Mr. Ramsey said.

Even if large franchises such as McDonald’s and Burger King can handle the wage, smaller, localized franchises could suffer.

Ellen Moculski, who owns Jreck Subs shops in Adams and Central Square, said the proposal is not taking into account the drastic effects such an increase could have on upstate New York. Mrs. Moculski said she has kept prices down during past minimum wage increases, but she would be forced to bump up prices and possibly lay off workers at $15 per hour.

“They’re looking at a small picture of how it’s going to affect people,” Mrs. Moculski said.

Brandon Spencer, owner of Papa Tino’s Pizzeria in Watertown, said people who want the raise do not understand the heavy burden it will put on small businesses, even to the point of forcing some to close.

Mr. Spencer said the case might be different for restaurant workers who work for tips. Delivery drivers, for instance, will not have to be paid the new wage because tip money covers the difference. However, Mr. Spencer said, a job flipping burgers with a $15-per-hour base pay might be more attractive.

“I might just have to end up working more hours myself just to compensate for the rise in wages,” Mr. Spencer said.

Paolo Cannella, owner of Original Italian Pizza in Watertown, agreed, noting that if employee wages go up to $15 per hour, food prices will rise significantly to compensate.

Original Italian Pizza has six more locations in and around Syracuse.

Mr. Cannella, however, is skeptical of the decision.

“I don’t think it’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s just too high.”

 

By Brian Molongoski, Times Staff Writer