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Business lobbyists earned defeat of minimum wage bill

Our Lobbies at the Top project finds heavy business advocacy helped derail proposed minimum wage hike

Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a news conference where he confirmed a proposed minimum wage hike will not proceed this year. AP Photo/Mike Groll

On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo threw in the towel in Democrats’ recent efforts to raise New York State’s minimum wage. Citing unshakeable opposition to the measure in the Republican-controlled State Senate, Cuomo said the proposed increase in the minimum hourly wage from $7.25 to $8.50 was not going to happen this year.

“We hope for the ideal and we live in the real, right?” he said on the radio show Capitol Pressroom. “I don’t think this, at this time, is in the realm of the possible because the Senate has a heartfelt position in opposition.”

The Senate’s unyielding stand against the minimum wage hike came with plenty of outside encouragement. A review of lobbying data from the first two months of 2012, assembled for the New York World’s Lobbies at the Top database, shows that 21 businesses and trade organizations lobbied the state legislature in January and February on the minimum wage bill, compared with just three unions or anti-poverty groups.

The lobbyists that business associations deployed to Albany to influence the legislation were compensated on a very different scale from the workers whose wages were in question. To put this contrast in perspective, we reviewed the salaries of lobbyists who belonged to nonprofit trade groups such as the New York State chapters of the Retail Council and Restaurant Association, which must publicly disclose the salaries of their highest compensated employees.

These five lobbyists earned an average of $249,771 per year, according to disclosure forms from 2010, the most recent year on record. Based on a work year with two weeks of vacation and the number of weekly hours listed on their disclosure forms, these lobbyists made an average of $134.21 per hour — more than 18 times the current minimum wage.

The highest compensated lobbyist was James R. Sherin, president of the Retail Council of New York State, who earned $334.82 per hour, according to 2009 disclosure forms, the most recent ones available for his organization. His income also came from his simultaneous positions as the chairman of the council’s Workers’ Compensation Safety Group executive committee and as president of Retail Council Services Corp., the for-profit subsidiary of the Retail Council. Frederick Sampson, the president of the Restaurant Association of New York State, was the second highest-paid at $108.29 per hour.

One lobbyist for a workers’ advocacy organization that must disclose salary data, the National Employment Law Project, was active on the bill as well. Paul Sonn, the group’s legal co-director, earned $105,643 based on 2010 disclosures, or $52.82 per hour.

UPDATE 5/23/12: 

This morning, we got a call from the Retail Council of New York State, whose lobbying on the minimum wage bill we cited in our article. Vice President Ted Potrikus told us that the group was not opposed to all forms of increase in the state’s minimum wage but that it simply opposed an increase as large and abrupt as the one envisioned in Democrats’ legislation. Potrikus sent us his testimony before the Assembly Committee on Labor, which said that although “the Retail Council of New York State strongly opposes Assembly bill 9148″ it might accept a bill similar to New York State’s 2004 minimum wage hike, which phased in the increase over a period of three years.

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