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New York state Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon reviews minimum wage changes

New York state Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon
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New York state Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon

New York’s minimum wage workers saw their pay increase with the new year. The state Department of Labor Commissioner says more than a million workers are affected.

The minimum wage is now $16 an hour in New York City, on Long Island, and in Westchester County, and $15 an hour in the rest of the state. The wage will continue to rise incrementally through 2026, when it reaches $17 an hour downstate and $16 upstate.

Reardon spoke with WAMC just after the new rates took effect.

“This will affect over a million workers here in the state currently earning less than the 2024 minimum wage threshold, it is really a significant increase. And I want people to remember that women and particularly single mothers are over represented in the minimum wage category of earnings. So this increase doesn't help just the worker, it is really a family sustaining wage, very important to families. And of course, the minimum wage tends to lift all boats,” Reardon said.

The Business Council of New York State is among industry groups that oppose the hike. Reardon says its fears are unfounded.

“Before I was commissioner, I think in 2014, there was a wage order that said that workers at certain franchised fast-food operations needed to make $15 an hour. And this is before the wage increases, that happens for anybody else. And we had that, you know, you can imagine this is going to drive franchises out of the state of New York, not only did that not happen, some of those franchises actually expanded,” Reardon said.

To that point, Reardon says much of the money goes right back to the local economy.

“One other good thing about the minimum wage that people don't often think about, when people who work at this level, get a raise, they mostly spend that money in their local communities, they go out and buy their kids new shoes, or they get extra groceries, or they may be able to go out and have a dinner out,” Reardon said.

But Reardon does agree: small businesses will be most impacted.

“Any business that is better capitalized is going to be able to absorb either higher prices in their supply chain or higher prices in their workforce. They just have more capital at hand, smaller businesses do have to adjust more, more quickly, probably, because they don't have as much ready cash. But you know, it's not a gigantic increase. And again, they're probably going to see an increase in traffic,” Reardon said.

That doesn’t mean impacted businesses are without support, Reardon says.

“There are tax credits for hiring certain disadvantaged youth, there are tax credits for certain kinds of businesses, I don't have them on the top of my head. But if people are interested, again, contact the Department of Labor, ask for a Business Services Representative. And they can go out and sit down with him and talk to them, you know, walk them through what's available for them,” Reardon said.

Reardon encourages minimum wage workers to check their paystubs and ensure their wage actually went up. If they didn’t, Reardon says the Department of Labor has a process to address the matter.

“They should go on our website. And there is a form that you can fill out under worker protection, saying that my employer is not paying the correct wage. And we will immediately follow up,” Reardon said.

Reardon adds workforce development is one of the office’s top goals.

 “We work very closely with businesses and people looking for work to make sure that we can pair them up with the employer and that they have the skills that they need to succeed. Of course, in our worker protection area, we're always making sure that we enforce the many regulations that we have making sure people are paid overtime correctly, making sure that you know they're safe on the job,” Reardon said. 

Reardon says more needs to be done for migrants, who have arrived in the state by the thousands and are desperate to starting working.

“People in that category can certainly reach out to us and our folks in workforce development can help direct them to, you know, an agency or a social service group that can help them start their paperwork. It's very important. The last thing we want is for people to be forced to work in the shadows. We want them to get work authorization, so they can be safe, and we can protect them,” Reardon said.

Reardon says the department’s services are there for the general public.

“A lot of times people think of the Department of Labor as the regulator, and they're afraid to come to us. But we're working very hard to make sure that they understand we are their Department of Labor. If you have questions about wage and hour issues, contact us. If you're looking for new workers, please contact us. And if you're looking to upskill, or change careers, or if you're a young person, and you want some ideas about what should I do when I leave school, please talk to us,” Reardon said.

A 2022 Siena College graduate, Alexander began his journalism career as a sports writer for Siena College's student paper The Promethean, and as a host for Siena's school radio station, WVCR-FM "The Saint." A Cubs fan, Alexander hosts the morning Sports Report in addition to producing Morning Edition. You can hear the sports reports over-the-air at 6:19 and 7:19 AM, and online on WAMC.org. He also speaks Spanish as a second language. To reach him, email ababbie@wamc.org, or call (518)-465-5233 x 190. You can also find him on Twitter/X: @ABabbieWAMC.