Advocates and some state lawmakers are pushing for consistency between the minimum wage upstate and in New York City.

Known as the Upstate Parity and Minimum Wage Protection Act, the bill would create a statewide minimum of $17 per hour. As of Jan. 1, the minimum wage in New York City, Westchester County and Long Island sits at $16 per hour. In upstate New York, it’s $15 per hour.

Advocates like state Assemblymember Harry Bronson say the minimum amount the state feels someone can live on in New York City should be the minimum for everyone, while some business leaders argue the economies are totally different, and the minimum wage businesses are expected to pay should reflect that.

“I don’t support the idea that we have a geographical divide on what the level of minimum wage is,” Bronson told Spectrum News 1.

Bronson leads the Assembly’s Labor Committee and is the force behind the push. The bill is co-sponsored in the state Senate by Sen. Jessica Ramos.

He stressed the current setup prevents employees upstate from seeing the full benefits of recent minimum wage hikes. In 2023, the Legislature passed and Gov. Kathy Hochul approved legislation that would index the minimum wage to inflation starting in 2027.

That legislation also stipulates that the minimum wage does not increase if there is an increase in unemployment. The Upstate Parity and Minimum Wage Protection Act would repeal that rule.

“We need to have universal minimum wage because it’s the floor, it’s the bottom, so it should be even across the state,” he said. “I just think we need more work on minimum wage so our families are receiving what they need."

Business leaders, however, argue there are reasons for that geographical line in the sand.

Bob Duffy, president and CEO of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, said his organization supports increasing pay for workers but argues it should be done as the market allows and as employee demands shift what is expected of employers to fill positions. Arguing that clear differences between upstate and downstate economies mean different standards make sense.

“The cost of living, housing, everything is much more expensive in New York City but it doesn’t translate upstate, and I do believe it would have a harmful effect on so many businesses,” he said.

He emphasized that upstate, the impact on the communities when businesses aren’t able to keep up is more pronounced.

“If a business leaves in New York City, it's like a tree falling in the woods. If a business leaves upstate New York, it’s like a tree falling on your house," he said. "It’s a very, very visible difference and you see the very clear disparities upstate." 

Bronson said until recently, he and his husband were business owners, selling their coffee shop in December.

He acknowledges the change would squeeze some businesses and some would handle it better than others, but the tradeoff is more money being spent overall.

“I understand that struggle. You raise the cost of your goods, make deductions, reduce your profit margin, I get it,” he said. "However, most economists agree that if you raise the minimum wage, those folks go right back into the economy and they spend that money on necessities. They'd given up on buying some necessities because they don’t have enough money." 

The bill must pass by the end of the year, or it will need to be reintroduced in the new legislative session.