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Activists celebrate, business owners wary over mimimum wage increases

Jake Allen with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) speaks into a megaphone at a demonstration.
Metro Justice
Jake Allen with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) speaks into a megaphone at a demonstration.

Minimum wage is rising across New York state on New Year’s Eve. Activists for workers’ rights celebrate the change, while some business owners are wary.

Leading into 2020, the hourly minimum wage for workers in upstate New York will rise to $11.80. For tipped workers, it will be $7.85 an hour.

Peter Gines is the owner of Jine's Restaurant. He says tipped workers account for more than half of the employees at the Park Avenue diner.

He says that while he doesn’t expect anyone to have a “reasonable” quality of life on a minimum wage salary, he doesn’t agree with the state’s approach.

“This is what eats at my craw a little bit. We increase the wage rate for people in the restaurant who make the most amount of money,” Gines says.

In Gines’ experience, a previous wage hike for tipped workers, from $5 to $7.50 an hour resulted in a six-figure loss for his business. 

Over at Eastman Dental Pediatrics, Alexandra Candelaria is earning just above minimum wage as a receptionist. From 2015 to 2017, she was part of the Fight for 15 in Rochester, run by Metro Justice and funded by the Service Employees International Union.

“I was working three, four jobs to keep the lights on and keep food on the table at the same time because some weeks I had to choose between the two,” Caneldaria says.

Jake Allen with Service Employees International Union Local 200 says that the rise in minimum wage, particularly in New York City, which will see the highest wage increases, is the result of years of labor organizing.

"This is a huge victory that was won because fast food workers organized and took direct action against some of the most powerful corporations in the country," Allen says.

For Candelaria, she says the rise in minimum wage is encouraging but insufficient.

"Is it moving at the pace we want it to? No. Is it enough right now? Absolutely not," she says. "But the fight isn’t anywhere near from over."

Noelle E. C. Evans is WXXI's Murrow Award-winning Education reporter/producer.