The state wage board voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a proposal to increase the minimum wage for fast food workers to $15 an hour.
The wage would rise to $15 an hour for fast food workers in New York City by 2018 and everywhere else in the state by 2021.
Fast food workers are defined as those who work for food establishments with 30 or more restaurants nationwide.
Governor Andrew Cuomo called in to NY1 Wednesday to praise the decision.
"It's really absurd. You take a company like McDonald's. They pay the minimum wage. Their people are still below the poverty level, so they qualify for welfare, and in New York alone, we do about $700 million in payments to McDonald's workers. Meanwhile, McDonald's is making $4 billion a year," Cuomo said.
In the phone call, the governor also reiterated his support to raise the overall minimum wage.
"I support a raise in the minimum wage. I have fought for it every year. We have raised the minimum wage, as you know, not as high as I would like. But to me, it is the single-best thing we can do," Cuomo said.
"We all talk about income inequality, which is a real and growing problem, poverty, which is a real and growing problem. The best thing you can do is raise the wages for the people who are at the bottom, the working families that are at the bottom, so that they can have a better life."
Fast food workers say getting paid $15 an hour will help them keep up with the high cost of living, but restaurant owners argue it will lead to higher prices and fewer jobs.
Opponents say legal options are being pursued since they say the governor circumvented the legislature and left many other minimum wage workers statewide without the same boost.
"It's an irrational and discriminatory rush to judgment to achieve a pre-determined outcome," said Randy Mastro, an attorney for fast food franchise owners.
Mastro says the argument that it will help minorities and the very poor needs to be re-examined.
"These are small business owners, many of them minorities and women, who are struggling to survive on low margins and can ill afford a 66 percent increase in the wages they have to pay their entry-level workers," Mastro said.
The wage board's decision was the culmination of a steady campaign that included rallies and street protests. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was one of the first elected officials to publicly point out that Cuomo has the legal power to do what he did with the wage board.
"This is not just a victory for the fast food workers who will get a much-deserved raise. This is a victory for a movement that you have all built," Schneiderman said.
The final determination on the wage hike is made by the state Labor Commissioner, who is also appointed by Cuomo. The commisisoner can either accept the reccomendation, reject it or make modifications. A final decision is expected within the next 30 days.