By Sebastien Malo
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A panel formed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to review the minimum wage for the state's 180,000 fast-food workers is due to release its findings on Wednesday, with local media reporting it is likely to recommend an increase to $15 per hour.
The expected recommendation, which would boost entry-level pay from its current $8.75 per hour level, follows a three-year campaign by labor activists calling for a $15 minimum wage nationwide.
The recommendation would go to the state's labor commissioner, and ultimately not require legislative approval, according to the New York Department of Labor.
Cuomo announced the creation of the panel in a New York Times op-ed in May. He has made it clear he would follow the panel's recommendation in requiring higher wages at restaurants owned by companies including McDonald's Corp, Burger King and Wendy's Corp.
"Whatever the Wage Board comes back with, it has to be accepted, basically by the commissioner of the Department of Labor, period," Cuomo told reporters on Sunday. "If it is accepted, then it becomes the law for those workers."
The minimum wage has become a politically charged issue across the United States, with major retailers including McDonald's, Wal-Mart Stores Inc and Target Corp saying they would raise their entry-level pay above legal minimums.
Opponents of the measure say it would be unfair to require just one industry to raise its wages.
"The likely result will be fewer opportunities for people to enter the job market, sky-rocketing prices for consumers, and businesses going under," said Melissa Fleischut, president of the New York State Restaurant Association.A wage increase specific to fast-food workers would be a first for the United States, according to Yannet Lathrop, policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, a non-profit labor advocacy group.
Less than half a dozen cities have put in place plans to raise the minimum wage to $15, including Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The wage increase could spark similar moves in other low-paid industries, said Stephanie Luce, a professor of labor studies at the City University of New York.
"It may also be that politicians feel some pressure to raise the other wages," she said.
(Editing by Scott Malone and Mohammad Zargham)