Small business owners and family farmers joined together Monday at Martha Clara Vineyard in Riverhead to ask state lawmakers to oppose the $15 minimum wage. The April first budget deadline is just days away, and the coalition remains united in its efforts to defeat what will be a tough blow to local employers.
The consequences of a 67 percent wage hike are far-reaching. The small businesses shared their personal stories of what this will mean to each of them, including the decisions that will have to be made to compensate for the major increase in labor costs. A reduction in the number of employees and an increase in automation are on the table should this proposal pass in Albany.
Karl Novak, Half Hollow Hills Nursery, expresses his concerns, “Without a way to offset this rise in operating costs, it would be difficult to regain profitability.” Novak states, where nursery businesses work with thin margins and a product that in many cases can take 5-7 years to grow to marketable condition. “Labor is our most expensive cost input at our nursery, currently close to 50 percent of our total operating cost. A $15.00 minimum wage would raise our current labor costs in excess of 60 percent, and would mean close to a 30 percent increase in our total operating expense.”
“Farmers are price takers, not price makers”, say Bob Nolan of Deer Run Farm, “When you take a case of lettuce to Hunts Point or sell to local supermarkets, the market sets the price for product. It doesn’t matter what your costs are at the farm, if someone in NJ is growing it and selling it cheaper, [wholesale] buyers will always go with the lower price.”
The impacts will be felt statewide, but Long Island is notorious for astronomical taxes and high cost of living. Larry Kaiser, of Kaiser Maintenance Inc in Jamesport, shares his concerns on the increase, “I am in the landscape industry and we already hire unskilled employees at above minimum wage. In the end, the ripple affect will increase the cost of living for everyone because I will not be able to absorb the costs of wages, insurance and other costs associated with my business.”
A recent report conducted by the former director of the Congressional Budget Office, found that at least 200,000 jobs would be lost across the state. A separate independent analysis by Farm Credit East estimates a $15 minimum wage in New York State would cost farmers between $387 and $622 million in 2021 at the peak of the wage rollout and nearly 2,000 farms would no longer be profitable. Businesses that can’t make money don’t stay in business.
The Nassau Council of Chambers of Commerce joins the LI Farm Bureau in opposition to the $15 wage hike. “This will force many Main Street Businesses to consolidate positions, automate or be forced to close”, says Julie Marchesella, President of the Nassau Council of Chambers of Commerce, “Main Street businesses already face extreme competition with the internet causing a decrease in sales. It will be unaffordable for micro businesses with 10 or less employees to assume any further payroll expense.”
Because of the statewide ramifications, yesterday’s event coincided with more than a dozen others happening in communities across New York. It is a final push to make the compelling point to lawmakers that there are serious consequences, from job to loss to higher consumer prices, should New York pass a $15 minimum wage. The small business owners asked their local lawmakers to vote no on $15.
Rob Carpenter is the administrative director of the Long Island Farm Bureau.