Minimum wage hike: Local restaurant concerned, ‘It needs to be reassessed’

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The minimum wage is set to increase at the end of the year for a final time, as part of a five-year phase-in process in NYS. For Upstate New York, this means an increase from $11.80 to $12.50. On Wednesday evening the New York State Dept. of Labor confirmed it will take effect indefinitely.

Some GOP leaders, like Senator Robert Ortt, have been fighting to put the hike on pause, saying small businesses won’t be able to withstand the addition to their budget. One local restaurant owner agrees.

Ross Mueller owns Mueller Restaurant Group, which includes Market Native Restaurant downtown and Label 7 in Pittsford. He says the increase by seventy cents in the minimum wage may sound like it won’t make an impact. But his response? Pennies add to dollars. Especially when he has over sixty employees to consider, he says.

“Even when a staff member drops something as simple as a to-go container, that costs us money, I don’t yell at anybody ever it’s more just a reminder to the staff,” he said.

Mueller says his mentality is always: things add up. And while he’s not necessarily against the increase in minimum wage – he says it’s just bad timing with the state of small businesses amid the pandemic.

“I think there’s a better way to do it, especially with COVID,” he said.

Senator Ortt says there should be a re-evaluation of the where the economy is, before the increase.

“It’s written in the legislation, it clearly said there would be a review about how this was impacting what the state of economy was before it could go up,” he said. “Nobody could look at the upstate economy … and say its healthy today.”

Local Assemblyman Harry Bronson is pushing for federal help for businesses, much like Senator Ortt. But as far as the minimum wage hike – Bronson says, a pause isn’t the answer.

“If the feds would step up, take on their responsibility to help the businesses, that would help our families a great deal,” said Allan Richards, spokesperson for Bronson.

Bronson says almost 90% of people working minimum wage jobs, often stay in them for a lifetime. This increase is something they need right now, he says.

“They need to provide for families, pay for rent, pay for food, pay for education, pay for children just like everyone else does.”

Top congressional leaders are getting closer to an agreement on a new COVID-19 relief package – the bill includes stimulus checks, enhanced federal unemployment insurance benefits and more.

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