ALBANY, N.Y. — Several labor unions say more than $400,000 in contributions by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. since 2010 helped bring about the creation of an unusual taxpayer-paid subsidy last month to help employers offset a higher minimum wage in New York.
Senate Republicans, who had long opposed an increase in the minimum wage along with some business groups, called the unions' claim "complete and utter nonsense." Republicans senators never had any conversation with Wal-Mart on the issue, spokesman Scott Reif said.
In March, the Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo increased the minimum wage to $9 an hour over the next three years, up from the current minimum wage of $7.25. The law also included tax credits for employers who hire seasonal employees ages 16 to 19 who are still in school. That subsidy is estimated at $20 million to $40 million a year with no cap on the payments.
The provision is expected to provide millions of dollars to big-box stores like Wal-Mart.
Lawmakers never announced the subsidy, but it was discovered in the bill after months of closed-door negotiations. The allegations come as the unions seek public financing of campaigns.
"This provision was part of a budget compromise that will keep young workers from losing their jobs," said Reif. "In fact, we are surprised that these unions would oppose this provision given the high unemployment rate among young New Yorkers, especially minorities."
There was no memo or other link between the Wal-Mart donations and the minimum wage provision, and Wal-Mart also said it didn't pursue the provision.
"Wal-Mart plays an active role in the political process, serving as an advocate on issues that are important to our customers," said Wal-Mart spokesman Kory Lundgerg. "We support candidates on both sides of the aisle, but that doesn't necessarily mean we agree on every issue.
"Contrary to what you are hearing, Wal-Mart did not play an active role, either in support or against this legislation," he said. "Our goal, everywhere we operate is to provide our associates a competitive wage, affordable benefits and an opportunity to build a career."
Wal-Mart has contributed more than $105,000 to Republican senators and Assembly members over the past two years as Democratic support for the issue grew, state election records show. In addition, Wal-Mart provided $400,000 since January 2011, most of it in 2012, to a state Republican Senate account that can be used for several purposes.
Unions are also among New York's biggest contributors of campaign donations. For example, the RWDSU and its locals contributed $92,000 since 2010 to local and state candidates, mostly Democrats. The UFCWI union and its locals contributed $288,000 during the period.
Republicans had long opposed the minimum wage increase pushed by Cuomo, the Assembly's Democratic majority, and a group of Democratic senators who caucus separately from the party and share control of the Senate with Republicans. Republicans said raising the minimum wage would dampen a sluggish economic recovery and cost jobs.
Several unions that are pushing for public financing of campaigns call the contributions "legal bribery."
"Donate enough money to the Senate GOP as an investment that will end up making their corporation an enormous amount of money, all on the backs of hard-working, taxpaying Americans," said Patrick Purcell of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents workers in grocery and retail stores, and in food-processing and meat packing companies.
The group is one of several seeking public financing of campaigns now being considered in Albany and opposed by Senate Republicans. Other powerful unions in Democratic politics are part of the effort including the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.