- Associated Press - Monday, August 17, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Fast-food franchise owners in the state, in a prelude to a possible lawsuit, have filed objections to a proposal to raise the minimum wage of their workers to $15 an hour.

The increase, from the current $8.75 an hour, was endorsed last month by a state Wage Board and would be phased in over the next six years, starting with an increase at the end of this year. The increase now awaits approval by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s labor commissioner. Cuomo supports the increase, so its approval is considered a certainty.

While the complaints filed with the labor commissioner are unlikely to derail the pay hike, they foreshadow the legal arguments being considered by restaurant owners who warn it would force them to raise prices and possibly replace workers with automated service stations.

In a letter opposing the hike, a lawyer for the National Restaurant Association argues the increase unfairly applies to only national chain restaurants and infringes on the Legislature’s authority to pass minimum-wage increases. The letter also notes that the three-member Wage Board had no representative from the fast-food industry.

Attorney Randy Mastro wrote that the increase would “improperly target only a sliver of a segment of a single industry, without support in data, logic or law” and that implementing the increase would be “arbitrary, capricious, irrational, unreasonable, invalid and contrary to law.”

The letter was filed Friday. A similar complaint was announced on Monday by the Business Council of New York State. The letters were filed during a period of public comment required before the increase can be approved.

Franchise owners have said they are considering whether to challenge the increase in court, and the arguments laid out in the letters of objection are likely to underpin any eventual lawsuit.

The increase will impact an estimated 200,000 workers. Supporters say the industry can absorb the increase, which they say is needed to help workers struggling with ever higher costs of living.

The wage increase would apply to fast-food workers in restaurants with 30 or more locations. It would be phased in over three years in New York City and six years elsewhere in the state.

The current wage already is set to automatically rise to $9 for all workers at year’s end.

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