ALBANY — They‘re trying to “Save Our Swirled.“
Calling it a “real moral issue,” Ben & Jerry’s corporation is publicly supporting Gov. Cuomo’s push for a $15-an-hour state minimum wage, the Daily News has learned.
“It’s a moral disgrace that so many hard-working New Yorkers have to scrape to get by on a minimum wage that has fallen so far behind the cost of living,” said Ben & Jerry’s Board Chairman Jeff Furman.
The current $8.75 an hour minimum wage is set to jump to $9 at the end of the year. Cuomo needs legislative approval to increase the wage statewide to $15 an hour for everyone.
Furman argued that raising it to $15 an hour over several years “will boost the consumer buying power that businesses depend on” and would also be “an important investment in New York’s social and economic progress.”
Ben & Jerry’s, which is based in Vermont, offers its employees at its manufacturing plants a starting salary of $16.92 an hour, health insurance, and three pints of ice cream a day, Furman said.
The company, he said, reassesses the minimum it pays every year, factoring in things like food, housing, and fuel costs.
“We’ve paid a living wage for more than 20 years, sparing our employees the struggle of trying to make it on wages that don’t even cover basic expenses,” Furman said. “In return, our company is spared the cost of high employee turnover.”
Ben & Jerry franchises that sell the ice cream at their stores are not bound by the higher corporate rate, but are covered under a recent Cuomo administration order phasing in a $15-an-hour minimum wage for fast-food workers by 2018 in the city and 2021 in the rest of the state.
Furman said the corporation would be willing to help with the transition, possibly by lowering some rents or royalty and licensing fees franchisees pay.
Interestingly, among those who have publicly opposed the wage hike is Patrick Pipino, who owns a Ben & Jerry’s franchise in upstate Saratoga Springs.
Pipino is part of a coalition of New York business owners and groups that has come out against the $15 wage, saying it would drive up business and consumer costs and lead to job losses.
“I’m not trying to upset the parent company because they’re a big believer in social justice and economic opportunity, but a lot of the franchisees are very much against this,” Pipino said.
Pipino said the bulk of his employees are under the age of 22 and earn just above the current minimum wage, plus tips.
A report released last week by the conservative Empire Center for Public Policy said Cuomo’s plan would cost the state up to 588,800 jobs, including up to 273,800 in the city.
“A $15 minimum wage will hurt far more struggling New Yorkers than it’s designed to help,” said Greg Biryla, executive director of Unshackle Upstate. “Any organization or movement that is truly committed to helping low-wage New Yorkers prosper, should join us in supporting a better business climate and promoting work force development efforts.“
But advocates for the higher wage cite other studies that show wage hikes have little or no effect on job levels or growth.
Furman says he plans to be active as the fight over the minimum wage heats up in the coming legislative year. No state has enacted a $15-an-hour minimum wage, though a handful of cities like Los Angeles and Seattle have.
The biggest hurdle in New York is the Senate, where GOP Majority Leader John Flanagan has expressed serious concerns.
© 2015 NY Daily News