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Business advocates battle mounting mandates

ALBANY — State leaders are getting growing pushback from business advocates objecting to what they see as a series of burdensome regulatory mandates.

After the state last year enacted what Gov. Andrew Cuomo billed the most ambitious paid family leave program for workers, lawmakers decided it should be expanded this year by passing a measure that would entitle employees to paid time off for bereaving the death of a loved one.

In urging Cuomo to veto the measure, the Business Council of New York argued that the bereavement legislation, in combination with paid family leave, could leave employers facing up to 60 days of unscheduled absence annually for each one of their full-time workers.

Such a rule would be particularly problematic for small businesses that could be left in the lurch, with a shortage of workers to meet customer demand, the council argued in a bill memo.

‘CALL IN’ PAY

Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi said the bereavement pay legislation is being reviewed by the governor’s staff.

The legislation advanced this year at about the same time the State Department of Labor, one of the executive agencies under Cuomo’s control, teed up regulations designed to encourage “predictable” scheduling by employers.

The rules would entitle workers to up to four hours of “call in” pay if shifts are canceled within 72 hours of a shift start time.

That draft rule is being vigorously opposed by Ron Benderson, president of Delta-Sonic Carwash Systems, with outlets in Niagara Falls and 18 other locations, and representatives of the restaurant industry.

‘SOME WON’T SURVIVE’

When the regulations were released last November, the governor said that they would “increase fairness for workers and allow employers to retain flexibility.”

But the Business Council is arguing that the combination of regulations now in the pipeline would have a “devastating” impact on employers who would have to scramble to cover for workers taking unscheduled job-protected absences.

The mounting number of mandates being imposed on New York businesses — including the phasing in of a higher minimum wage — are threatening the ability of small businesses to prosper, their advocates said.

Many businesses, said Garry Douglas, CEO and president of the North Country Chamber of Commerce, are already coping with a tight labor market as the economy picks up.

“Businesses are seeing a wave of new state and federal mandates that add further costs to their operations,” he said. “Some won’t survive, and others will survive with fewer employees.”

He questioned whether heightened regulations are needed, arguing that “virtually all of the small employers I know value their employees.”

For those who don’t respect their workers, the mandates are unlikely to change their approach to managing their businesses, Douglas added.

TIP CREDIT

Still another Cuomo administration initiative that has ignited concerns from businesses — and, in this instance, many workers as well — is one that could eliminate the tip credit in the restaurant industry.

The tip credit allows tipped workers to be paid less than the minimum wage as long as they earn the hourly minimum wage when tips are included in their pay.

In New York, the minimum wage in the upstate region is now $10.40 per hour. It will go to $11.10 hourly at the end of this year.

“This is a perfect example of the state looking for a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist,” said Shawn Weber, proprietor of Wine on Third, a Niagara Falls tapas and wine bar.

“When you try to run a business in New York, it’s almost as if you’re an indentured slave. Every time I think I’m going to make a nickel, the state asks for a dime.

“But if they raise my costs, I will have less servers.”In January, Cuomo directed the Labor Department to examine industries to determine whether workers “are more susceptible to being exploited” because they are required to rely on tips.

The agency recently concluded a series of hearings across the state on the Cuomo suggestion.

Email Joe Mahoney:

jmahoney@cnhi.com

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