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Minimum wage bill would impose public wishes on private sector

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A bill mandating living wages for employees of selected businesses should be turned down by state legislators.

The Fair Wage Act is supported by state Sen. Daniel L. Squadron, D-26th District, and state Assemblywoman Nily D. Rozic, D-25th District, both of New York City. If enacted into law, the measure “would require large employers and chain stores to pay their employees a real living wage of $15 an hour indexed to inflation,” according to a news release from Sen. Squadron’s office.

“The bill is part of a broader push to raise wages in New York to better align with the high cost of living. Higher wage minimums, focused on businesses that can most afford it, are also gaining significant momentum across the country,” the news release reported. “The Fair Wage Act (S6455), sponsored by Sen. Squadron and Assemblymember Rozic, establishes a $15 an hour living wage and ties increases to the cost of living so that workers’ real earning power doesn’t decline as housing and other costs rise. The legislation would apply to large businesses who have annual gross revenues of at least $50 million a year and chain stores that have 11 or more locations throughout the United States.”

Sen. Squadron’s news release spells out a lofty goal of the legislation: raising the minimum wage in New York state from $8 an hour to $15 an hour so working families can improve the quality of their lives.

Once primarily the domain of entry-level workers or people just looking to supplement their household income, many jobs at big-box stores and franchise restaurants have been taken by middle age adults who have few other employment options. Their wages often don’t allow them to support their families, and many of them require public assistance to make ends meet. This problem affects far too many Americans and needs serious study.

But the Fair Wage Act is not the solution. According to a story in Monday’s New York Sun, manufacturers and nonprofit organizations would be exempt from the act.

There is no doubt that at least some of the specific businesses this legislation has in mind could afford to pay their employees more. If they had any decency, they would look into ways of providing more for their workers other than their measly pay and advice on applying for public financial assistance.

But is it the function of the New York State Legislature to decide which businesses can afford to pay their employees more? The criteria used in the bill seem rather arbitrary, and that’s its downfall.

Americans have long debated the proper role of government in mandating a minimum wage. We don’t want people to be forced to work for next to nothing as this would be approaching a form of slavery.

But legislators are not the ones running these businesses, so they are not in a position to determine if Corporation X can afford a base wage of $15 an hour. If they want to see these wages increase, they should work for these companies and revise the system from within.

They should not, however, meddle in these firms’ operations in such an invasive manner. Pressuring companies to provide better pay through public appeals, protests and boycotts is acceptable. Legislating what constitutes a living wage is not.

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