Press-Republican

March 8, 2013

Minimum-wage bill approved in Assembly, but not by North Country members

JOE LoTEMPLIO
Press-Republican

PLATTSBURGH — The State Assembly approved a bill this week to increase the state minimum wage up to $9 per hour — but it didn’t get any North Country legislative support.

It did, however, receive approval from one major employer in this area.

“We look at it that it is probably about time,” said Tom Mailey, spokesman for Stewart’s Shops.

Stewart’s employs about 4,000 people in 327 stores in 30 upstate counties, including numerous stores in Clinton, Essex and Franklin.

RELIEF MEASURES

Stewart’s support of the minimum-wage increase is at odds with the North Country’s legislative representatives, who oppose the plan.

“There is absolutely no mention of any relief for businesses large or small with this,” Assemblywoman Janet Duprey (R-Peru) said Wednesday.

“There are things we can do for businesses if we pass this, but there is no mention of any of it. I can’t support a bill that does not address the many issues facing businesses.”

Duprey and Assemblyman Daniel Stec (R-Queensbury) both voted against the measure, which passed in the Assembly by a count of 101-44, with most of the majority Democrats supporting it.

HIGHER THAN SOUGHT

The bill went beyond Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s push to get the minimum wage increased from $7.25 per hour to $8.75.

Duprey said she is concerned that raising the minimum wage that much could wind up costing jobs.

“I’ve talked to a lot of business owners who told me that they would either have to lay people off or not hire any summer help,” she said.

“Many businesses have said they are just beginning to see a profit for the first time in two or three years, and if we do this to them, it will just set them right back.”

Stec said the bill went too far and that he would have liked to have seen a carve-out for farmers.

“This bill is far too aggressive against businesses when we are trying to improve the business climate in this state,” he said.

“I haven’t talked to any businesses who have said that if we raise the minimum wage they would hire more people.”

OPPOSITION

Stec, like Duprey, wants to see some kind of relief provided to business owners if a wage hike is approved.

He noted that the Business Council of New York State, Unshackle Upstate and the New York Farm Bureau are among the government-watchdog groups that opposed the wage hike.

“Those are some powerful groups,” Stec said.

IN THE SENATE

While the Assembly approved a bill for a minimum-wage increase, the Senate has no immediate plans to vote on a similar bill, according to Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury).

Little said she is not in favor of an increase right now.

“A lot of businesses I’ve talked to have said they would go to more part-time employees with no benefits, and I don’t want to see jobs lost,” she said.

Little also said she would like to see business costs for owners lowered if a minimum-wage hike were to be approved.

BOTH SIDES

Mailey said some employees start at Stewart’s at minimum wage, while others start out higher, depending on experience. He said the company is trying to take workers’ needs into consideration.

“We try to look at all the sides,” he said. “The people working as well as business.”

As far as businesses receiving some kind of relief in the wake of a wage increase, Mailey said, “we haven’t had those discussions yet.”

Email Joe LoTemplio: jlotemplio@pressrepublican.com