For Lehman Students, Higher Minimum Wage Means Cuts in Hours

By Juan A. Santos

Street art in Singapore reads “Minimum Wage?!” Photo courtesy of Flickr.

“Superiors decided to cut personnel by keeping 3 out of 4 employees who will now have to work more,” said Lehman sophomore Ahsanul Hague, when asked how the recent rise in New York State’s minimum wage impacted his workplace. Hague, a business and computer information systems double major who works at Dunkin Donuts, explained “I don’t have an issue with a decrease in hours since I’m working part-time. I have already seen an increase in my salary since the minimum wage increase, which helps me save…but my ex-coworker [is] not so good after he was laid off. The store was struggling to function 100 percent.”  

In New York, the minimum wage increased from $13.50 to $15 an hour on Dec. 31, 2018.  This marks the twenty-second increase since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt introduced the federal minimum wage in 1938, which started at 25 cents per hour, according to minimum-wage.procon.org. 

Many activists hailed the increase as a victory for workers. “The ‘fight for $15’ an hour has gone from a rallying cry to facts on the ground in just a few short years,” said Paul Sonn, the state policy program director of the National Employment Law Project, which advocates for low-wage workers. “This demand was from the fast-food workers who explained that was the minimum they needed for a decent life.”  

However, for Lehman students who work, the effects of this increase have been mixed in the first three months of the year. The disparate outcomes have been seen as a blessing for some and misfortune for other employees and employers this fiscal quarter.  

“As a student assistant worker at the Counseling Center on campus, I have experienced a noticeable increase on my weekly income statement thus far,” said Lehman senior Daisy Flores, a diet and nutrition major. However, Flores observed that many of her coworkers were laid off. “Two-thirds of our staff at the center consists of unpaid interns. I gained more hours and more work while fellow co-workers got phased out as more unpaid interns came in. They worked 9 to 5 p.m. replacing phased out co-workers’ hours.”

“I gained more hours and more work while fellow co-workers got phased out as more unpaid interns came in.” 

- Daisy Flores, Lehman senior and diet and nutrition major

With this raise, New York City joins several cities on the West Coast where the minimum wage has already hit $15, including San Francisco and Seattle. California’s minimum wage, which rises to $12 an hour for larger employers on Jan. 1, is expected to rise to $15 over the next few years.  

Sonn cited recent decisions by national retailers like Target and Amazon to raise their wages to $15 an hour. The country is now a patchwork quilt of wages, with some states still operating under the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. Connecticut’s minimum wage is $10.10. In New Jersey, it is $8.85, though the state’s Democratic governor and Legislature, which is also controlled by Democrats, want to raise it to $15.  

Economists linked higher wages to better physical and mental health and reduced decision fatigue, which results in increased productivity, as reported by The Education & Labor Committee. Higher wages reduce turnover, recruiting and training cost for employers. For hourly workers in New York City who are not laid off, the increase can make a big difference. 

Rosa Rivera earned just $5.15 an hour and relied on government assistance to pay her rent when she started working at a McDonald’s in Manhattan 18 years ago. Now, 53 and a veteran of several rallies for better wages, Rivera’s eyes teared up as she spoke about attaining one of the main goals the workers had set.

“When I get my first check with $15, I’m going to be so happy,” said Rivera, an immigrant from El Salvador with three children. She said she was proud to pay her rent and help support her grandchildren without federal benefits.