Business owners offer mixed views on minimum wage hikes

Robert James Salon owner Ray Pickersgill in his downtown shop. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)
Robert James Salon owner Ray Pickersgill in his downtown shop. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

One of New York State officials’ last acts of 2014, effective Dec. 31, was to raise minimum wage 75 cents to $8.75 an hour.

The nearly nine percent increase makes New York one of 19 states, plus the District of Columbia, to have increased their rates by Jan. 1.

In New York, this was the second in a series of three incremental boosts that will raise minimum wage to $9 an hour Dec. 31, 2015.

Locally, business owners and leaders had mixed reactions to the increases. 

“I think it’s a good thing,” said Ray Pickersgill, president of the Riverhead Business Improvement District. “Even though we’re all coming out of a recession, I think it should be increased. I don’t think you can live on minimum wage. It’s impossible to; it has to be raised.”

Mr. Pickersgill said anyone with a full-time job in New York State should at least be able to afford an apartment.

Others don’t view the increase as such a positive change.

“Minimum wage positions are temporary positions, not a way of life,” said Lenny Lubrano, owner of Lenny’s in Jamesport. And the recent raises are “absolutely” affecting his business, he said.

“[When] operating and payroll increases, you have to raise the prices,” Mr. Lubrano said. “This is the increasing ignorance of New York State with minimum wage.”

Tom Scalia, president of the North Fork Chamber of Commerce, echoed those sentiments.

“Any time you increase the overhead of a business, you take away from its profitability,” Mr. Scalia said.

Amanda Scuderi, a manager at Forever 21 at Tanger Outlets in Riverhead, said she doesn’t believe raising minimum wage will affect the company’s overall operation.

“I know the employees are happy about it, though,” she said.

Business owners who have already been paying employees more than minimum wage are now giving workers additional raises to help compensate for the 75-cent boost, Mr. Pickersgill said.

“I always paid over minimum wage,” said Mr. Pickersgill, who owns Robert James Salon in downtown Riverhead. “But now that minimum wage is raised I’m going to raise what I pay. I always want to be ahead.”

Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. New York is one of 29 states, plus the District of Columbia, with a higher statewide rate.

California’s is $9, Connecticut’s is $9.15 and Washington D.C.’s is $9.50 an hour, good for the three highest rates in the nation.