Obama Recognizes Manhattan Restaurant Owner’s Kindness

Desi Shack’s voluntary wage increase accords with president’s agenda
April 29, 2014 2:16 pm Last Updated: April 29, 2014 2:16 pm

NEW YORK—It is not every day that a small-business owner receives a shoutout from the president.

All Yasmin Ibrahim, owner of the Desi Shack restaurant in Manhattan’s Murray Hill, had to do was raise the salaries of her 10 employees from $8 an hour to $10 an hour, and send a letter to the White House.

President Barack Obama highlighted Ibrahim’s actions in his weekly national address Saturday.

The business owner made the change thinking about the living expenses of her workers in increasingly expensive New York City. But Obama was quick to connect her idea with his own, as securing a minimum wage increase is a centerpiece of the Democratic Party’s agenda.

“The problem is, Republicans in Congress don’t support raising the minimum wage,” Obama said. That’s why, he added, people like Ibrahim give their workers a raise.

This is not the first time the president has used an example of a voluntary wage increase for low-paid workers as an opportunity to drum up public support for his policy.

In January, Obama mentioned another restaurant, a pizzeria in Minneapolis, as evidence businesses are getting on board with the minimum-wage increase idea.

On March 11, during his visit to New York City, the president surprised employees of a Midtown Manhattan Gap retail store, when he decided to shop there for some family presents. He remembered to mention Gap earned the honors by raising its low-paid workers’ salaries above the minimum wage limit.

Federal Contract Workers

The president’s push for the policy is not limited to shoutouts though. On Feb. 12, Obama ordered a minimum wage increase for federal contract workers, from the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour.

Democrats in Congress are trying to make the same increase happen for everyone. Yet Republicans generally oppose the move, arguing it would crush many small businesses in the still-fragile economy.

The efforts continue though, even on a local level. On Jan. 28 Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye mandated that all subcontracted workers at the John F. Kennedy and La Guardia airports making under $9 an hour would receive a $1 raise. Foye was appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat.

The partisan divide makes a difference on the local level too.

Subcontracted workers at the Newark Liberty International Airport didn’t get the raise, even though the airport is under the authority of the Port Authority too. It may have had to do with the fact that Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Deborah Gramiccioni opposed the pay raise. She was appointed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican.