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What You Need to Know About Washington, D.C.'s Initiative 77 and the Minimum Wage

Wednesday, June 20th, 2018

On Tuesday, Washington, D.C., voters will have an opportunity to vote on Initiative 77, a ballot measure supported by a wide array of progressive and labor organizations that would eliminate the subminimum wage for tipped workers and give many working families a much-needed raise.

Initiative 77 would increase the tipped minimum wage to match the full wage: If it passes, the initiative would phase out the tipped minimum wage, leaving a flat $15 per hour minimum wage for D.C. workers. This would be phased in between now and 2025, giving restaurant and bar owners more than enough time to adjust to the change.

Tipped workers aren’t limited to restaurants and bars: Many other workers get tips, too, including manicurists/pedicurists, hairdressers, shampooers, valets, taxi and rideshare drivers, massage therapists, baggage porters and others. Very few of them get anywhere near the 20% standard you see in high-end restaurants and bars.

The current law is changing, but it will still leave tipped workers behind: The current minimum wage in D.C. is $12.50 an hour, with a minimum wage of $3.33 for tipped workers. If tipped workers don’t earn enough from tips to get to $12.50, employers are supposed to pay the difference. After existing minimum wage increases are fully implemented, the full minimum wage for D.C. will be $15 an hour, while the tipped minimum will increase to $5. The cost of living in D.C. is higher than every state in the United States except Hawaii.

D.C. has a particular problem with the minimum wage: As one of the places in the United States with the highest costs of living, low-wage workers are hit harder by discriminatory laws. D.C. has the largest gap in the country between its tipped minimum wage and its prevailing minimum wage. Tipped workers in D.C. are twice as likely to live in poverty as the city’s overall workforce. Tipped workers in D.C. are forced to use public assistance at a higher rate than the overall population, with 14% using food stamps and 23% using Medicaid.

Wherever tipped wage jobs exist, they are typically low-wage, low-quality jobs: Nationally, the median wage is $16.48 and tipped workers median wage is $10.22. Nationally, 46% of tipped workers receive public assistance, whereas non-tipped workers use public assistance at a rate of 35.5%. Workers at tipped jobs are less likely to have access to paid sick leave, paid holiday leave, paid vacations, health insurance and retirement benefits. Seven of the 10 lowest-paying job categories are in food services, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Tipped workers are more likely to end up in poverty: In states where the tipped minimum wage is at the federal standard of $2.13, the lowest in the country, the poverty rate for all workers is 14.5%, which breaks down to 18% for waitstaff and bartenders and 7% for non-tipped employees. What day of the week it is, bad weather, a sluggish economy, the changing of the seasons and any number of other factors completely outside of a server’s control can influence tips and make a night, a week or a season less likely to generate needed income.

The predictions of doom and gloom about raising the minimum wage or the tipped minimum wage never come true: Eight states already have eliminated the tipped wage and the restaurants in those states have higher sales per capita, higher job growth, higher job growth for tipped workers and higher rates of tipping. In fact, states without a lower tipped minimum wage have actually seen sectors where tipping is common grow stronger than in states where there is a subminimum wage. This is consistent with the data from overseas where countries have eliminated tipping and subminimum tipped wages. In states without a subminimum tipped wage, tipped workers, across the board, earn 14% higher. Increased minimum wages lead to employers seeing a reduction in turnover and increases in productivity. And, while there are certainly some exceptions, tippers in states without subminimum wage don’t tip less.

Tipped workers are more likely to be women, making lives worse for them and their families: Of the 4.3 million tipped workers in the United States, 60% of them are waiters and bartenders. Of that 2.5 million, 69% of them are women. Furthermore, 24% are parents, and 16% of them are single mothers. Half of the population of tipped bartenders and waitstaff are members of families that earn less than $40,000. Increasing the tipped minimum wage lets parents work fewer nights and have more time at home with their families. It also helps provide for a more steady, predictable income. Since 66% of tipped workers are women, a lower tipped minimum wage essentially creates legalized gender inequity in the industry. These lowest-paid occupations are majority female. More than one in four female restaurant servers or bartenders in D.C. live in poverty, twice the rate of men in the same jobs.

Harassment and objectification are encouraged by the tipped system: The stories about harassment in the restaurant industry are legion. Servers are forced to tolerate inappropriate behavior from customers in order to not see an instant decrease in income. This forces them to subject themselves to objectification and harassment. Workers in states with a subminimum tipped wage are twice as likely to experience sexual harassment in the workplace. In D.C., more than  90% of restaurant workers report some form of sexual harassment on the job. Women’s tips increase if they have blond hair, a larger breast size and a smaller body size, leading to discrimination against women that don’t have those qualities. Nearly 37% of sexual harassment charges filed by women to the EEOC come from the restaurant industry. This rate is five times higher than the overall female workforce. LGBTQ serversalso face a higher rate of harassment in order to obtain tips. Sexual harassment of transgender employees and men is also high in tipped environments. Some 60% of transgender workers reported scary or unwanted sexual behavior. More than 45% of male workers reported that sexual harassment was part of their work life, as well.

The subminimum tipped wage harms people of color: Research shows that tipping has racist impacts, too. Nonwhite restaurant workers take home 56% less than their white colleagues. Research shows that if the minimum wage had held the value it had in 1968, poverty rates for black and Hispanic Americans would be 20% lower. While many restaurants and bars claim to be race-neutral in hiring, the evidence shows that race often has an impact on who gets hired for jobs that directly interact with customers. And fine-dining environments, the ones where servers and bartenders make the most in tips, are much more likely to hire white servers and bartenders, particularly white males. Also, customers, generally speaking, tip black servers less than white servers. For instance, black servers get 15-25% smaller tips, on average in D.C.

The people behind the opposition to 77 are not worker- or democracy-friendly: Public disclosures show that the Save Our Tips campaign that opposes Initiative 77 is heavily funded by the National Restaurant Assocation. This particular NRA represents the interests of, and is funded by, big corporations, such as McDonald’s, Yum! (which owns Taco Bell, Pizza Hut & KFC), Burger King, Darden Restaurants (which owns Olive Garden, Red Lobster and others) and more. The group spends as much as $98 million to oppose minimum wage increases, safety and labor requirements and benefit increases and requirements. Meanwhile, the CEO of the NRA, Dawn Sweeney, took home $3.8 million in total compensation.

The Save Our Tips campaign is managed in part by Lincoln Strategy Group. In 2016, the group did $600,000 worth of work for the Donald Trump presidential campaign. Lincoln Strategy is managed by Nathan Sproul, a Republican consultant and former executive director of the Arizona Christian Coalition. Sproul has a history of being accused of fraudulent election-related activities, including destroying Democratic voter registration forms and creating a fake grassroots effort to undermine the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Another corporate-sponsored group, the Employment Policy Institute, has come out strongly against the initiative and created a website to attack it and ROC. The Institute is the creation of Rick Berman, a wealthy corporate lobbyist who runs campaigns against public interest groups like the Humane Society and labor unions.

Up until 1996, the tipped subminimum wage had been tied into being 50% of the prevailing minimum wage. That year, legislation decoupled the two and the subminimum wage for tipped jobs has stayed at $2.13 nationally, while some states have raised it. The NRA, headed up then by former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain, who would go on to run for president, led the charge to separate the two minimum wages.

The separate tipped minimum wage is a burden on employers and invites misuse: The system of tracking tips and wages so that employers can make up the difference is a complex one that is burdensome for employers. The system requires extensive tracking and accounting of tip flows. Not only this, employers are allowed to average tips over the course of a workweek and only have to pay the difference if the average is less than the minimum wage. Tips can also be pooled among various types of restaurant employees. Tip stealing and wage theft are hard to prove and workers are often reluctant to report them out of fear that they will be given fewer shifts or fired.

Employers frequently fail to pay the balance to their employees: While the law requires to make up the balance when tipped wages don’t reach the full minimum wage, employers often fail to do so. The Department of Labor investigated more than 9,000 restaurants and found that 84% had violated this law and had to pay out nearly $5.5 million in back pay because of tipping violations. How many didn’t get caught?

Restaurants are using union-avoidance tactics to sway employees against the initiative: Numerous reports from workers at D.C. restaurants have made it clear that not only are employers singing on to public letters and posting signs against Initiative 77, they are trying to sway their employees, too. Tactics that have been reported are straight from the union-advoidance industry. Many employers are forcing employees to listen to their opinion on the measure. Others have instructed them to evangelize to customers. Some are sending instructions to their employees on how to volunteer at the polls against the Initiative. Others have shared explicitly political videos with employees. Some managers have gone as far as to speak negatively about community organizations advocating for Initiative 77.

This blog was originally published at AFL-CIO on June 18, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

D.C. servers and bartenders say the tipped wage system isn’t working for them

Thursday, June 14th, 2018

A ballot measure in Washington, D.C. that would raise the minimum wage for tipped workers has been at the center of a heated debate in the restaurant industry.

Tipped workers in the city currently receive a base wage of just $3.33 an hour. On June 19, D.C. voters will vote on whether to change that. Initiative 77 would raise those workers’ minimum wage gradually, so that it matches the city’s minimum wage by 2026.

Bartenders and servers who spoke to ThinkProgress said they support the ballot measure because they want to have a more consistent income and feel less susceptible to putting up with harassment. But there’s a lot of misinformation out there.

The heated debate over Initiative 77

Over the last few months, “Save Our Tips” signs have been spotted inside restaurants and in windows throughout the city due to the opposition from many employers in the restaurant industry.

Last year, the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) created a committee called “Save Our Tip System Initiative 77” to campaign against and spend money on legal challenges against the initiative. The committee is managed in part by the Lincoln Strategy Group, which was responsible for canvassing work for Trump’s presidential campaign, according to The Intercept. The campaign has also received donations from many restaurant groups, including the National Restaurant Association, which successfully lobbied against increasing the minimum wage for tipped workers in the 1990s. The group gave the campaign $25,000 of the $58,550 it has raised so far, The Intercept reported.

“Servers are compensated very well,” Kathy Hollinger, the president of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, told WAMU last year. “They make far more than minimum wage because of the total compensation structure that works for a server.”

Most of the servers and bartenders ThinkProgress spoke to said employers oppose Initiative 77 and made their views known. Some employers have even gone so far as to advocate against the ballot measure in discussions with servers and to ask them to tell customers about the measure.

On the other side of the debate are the D.C. branch of Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC) — which is in charge of the national One Fair Wage Campaign to get rid of the tipped wage system — and many workers who the ballot initiative actually affects.

Although under law, tipped workers are supposed to receive the minimum wage, they say enforcement is another issue entirely. (Workers spoke to ThinkProgress on the condition that we do not publish their real names, out of fear of retaliation from their employers.)

Jamie, who works at a midsize restaurant in Petworth said, “Theoretically, we already have that level playing field, because restaurants are obligated to make up the difference if wage and tips doesn’t come out to minimum wage for workers, but most restaurants are non-compliant and don’t explain this policy to workers.”

Melissa, who works as a server at a restaurant on U Street, said it’s about making things more consistent and enforceable.

“I just think everyone should have that security of knowing they are going to have that paycheck that is going to equal at least a certain amount and it’s a lot more easy to enforce,” she said. “We’ll have tips on top of that and the service as we know it isn’t going to change.”

Michelle, who works as a bartender, said there are Save Our Tips signs on the walls and windows of the restaurant she works at. The restaurant group that owns the restaurant she works for, sends a weekly newsletter to employees, which provides links to instructions on how to volunteer at polls and anti-Initiative 77 videos.

She has heard from servers that they are encouraged to talk to customers about it and “make sure they know the server are against it and that it affects their livelihood and that they should vote against it.”  

Jamie said their employer posted signs that read “NO on 77” and encouraged workers to vote against it. “My managers have also made a point to speak negatively of community organizations that advocate for [Initiative] 77,” they said.

Melissa said she doesn’t have a problem with restaurant owners making their views known as long as they aren’t “lecturing workers on company time” about the ballot measure or spreading misinformation.

“This Save Our Tips campaign has so much fear mongering and misinformation. People believe so many inaccurate ideas because their bosses have said, ‘This is what’s going on,’” she said. “I just think they should have the correct information. I don’t think that’s happening right now.”

Melissa said she thinks workers are being misled when they’re told by employers that people will go eat in Virginia or Maryland instead or that restaurants will close, when in reality, the ballot measure allows the change to take effect gradually. She said some people have told her that they believe ROC is a union and that they will have to pay union dues.

“It’s just a shame they’re being given so many reasons to be afraid,” she said.

NAJ said a lot of people who support the ballot measure are afraid to say anything at their workplace for fear of retaliation.

“Some of those employees are doing so by choice, either because they’re against it or don’t understand it,” they said. “A lot of them can’t come out in support of it because they could lose their livelihoods. They could lose their jobs.”

Many places have already gotten rid of the subminimum wage for tipped workers, including California, Minnesota, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon, Alaska, Washington, and Nevada, and a number of cities. According to the Economic Policy Institute, poverty rates for servers and bartenders are much lower in states that don’t allow a subminimum wage.

Michelle moved to D.C. from California, where they got rid of the subminimum wage, and said she shares her experience working in California with other tipped workers.

“The differences have been pretty striking to me in terms of take-home money, the consistency of a paycheck or the consistency of what I make in a week to two weeks, and also the overtime that is expected of you in a non-tipped wage state,” she said. “I’ve really noticed the difference.”

Michelle said she has asked coworkers who wear No on 77 buttons to tell her more about their opposition to the ballot initiative.

“They’re like, ‘I don’t want to lose my tips’ and I’m like, ‘Oh is that what you believe is going to happen?’ and they say yes. I ask where they’re getting their information from. The only source they have is management and coworkers,” she said. “But they seem to be responsive when I tell them how it was for me when I worked in California and I had a regular paycheck. It wasn’t paying much but at least I could depend on the paycheck every couple weeks that I knew was coming and it was a consistent income as opposed to one week making a difference of $200 to $300 dollars a week depending on tips.”

Workers in support of Initiative 77 say the most privileged voices are the loudest

Servers and bartenders ThinkProgress spoke to said that although some tipped workers who oppose Initiative 77 seem uninformed, others appeared to oppose it because they benefit the most from the current system.

“Most of the white male bartenders I work with are very strongly anti-77,” Michelle said. “Mostly men and white guys are becoming voice of No on Initiative 77 and they are the loudest voice speaking for tipped workers. They aren’t my voice. And the people of color I know in the industry, they are not their voice either.”

NAJ said they don’t see enough people from marginalized groups represented in the debate in the media over Initiative 77.

“The idea that the experience of highest-tier people making the most money should be the representative experience is insulting to people who work in these positions who, for whatever reason, could not move into field of choice because of marginalized identities or whatever it is,” they said. “They are having their livelihoods affected by policies and by business models that literally privilege already privileged people.”

Melissa said people’s opinions seem to be divided along class lines, with people who make more money in the industry opposing the initiative, whereas people who suffer more from wage theft, make lower tips, and work several jobs tend to support it.

“They’re the ones being hurt by the current system,” she said.

Sexual harassment, queerphobia, and racism also needs to be part of the discussion on Initiative 77, servers and bartenders say.

ThinkProgress spoke to queer tipped workers, tipped workers of color, and tipped workers who have experienced sexual harassment. Although servers acknowledge that Initiative 77 won’t eliminate discrimination and sexual harassment from customers, they won’t be as worried about customer biases and behaviors affecting their ability to pay rent or buy groceries — or their ability to push back against harassment.

“I have been kissed by customers against my will. I have been groped. I have had my ass grabbed while I was pouring wine for a table,” Melissa said. “I have had so much inappropriate behavior that I was expected to put up with both by customers and by management because hey, it was a slow night and I needed the money so I guess I’m going to let you grope me if you’re going to tip me.”

Melissa said that even with tables she feels more comfortable talking to, she worries about outing herself as queer because she doesn’t know how her customers will feel.

“I have friends who present queer, much more than I do, who have faced discrimination from customers. I don’t want that to happen to me,” she said.

“White men consistently get tipped better than people of other races and genders — I don’t just mean statistically, but I mean that my own experiences have shown this to be the case,” Jamie said.

Michelle said, “As a bartender you’re likely to let a lot more stuff slide that you would otherwise call people out on when you know you’re not as dependent on tips.”

NAJ, who identifies as a Black femme, said, “I most certainly won’t be tipped by a homophobe or someone who is racist. Disabled workers experience this and transgender servers and bartenders experience this.”

“One of the arguments against 77 is that it will affect highest tipped workers in the business,” they added. “Many of them are from privileged groups, usually white men, usually straight appearing, and conventionally attractive and so they’re able to exploit a system that oppresses a certain class in order to make what they consider to be a fair wage. But a black trans woman working at IHOP can’t make anywhere near that.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on June 12, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.

Busting some myths about tipped workers and the minimum wage

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

There’s a referendum in Washington, D.C., to end the tipped minimum wage and make sure tipped workers get the full minimum wage. Restaurant groups are fighting hard and spreading misinformation, so the Economic Policy Institute sets the record straight. A lower wage for tipped workers disproportionately affects women and people of color—it “perpetuates racial and gender inequities, and results in worse economic outcomes for tipped workers,” especially given research showing that white people get higher tips.

Tipped workers in states where they get a subminimum wage experience higher poverty levels than in equal treatment states—a difference of 18.5 percent poverty vs. 11.1 percent poverty. And while restaurant owners are threatening that if the tipped minimum wage goes up, tips will go down or go away:

The data show that tipped workers’ median hourly pay (counting both base wages and tips) is significantly higher in equal treatment states. Waiters, waitresses, and bartenders in these states earn 17 percent more per hour (including both tips and base pay) than their counterparts in states where tipped workers receive the federal tipped minimum wage of $2.13 per hour. There is no evidence that net hourly earnings go down, such as from customers tipping less, when tipped workers are paid the regular minimum wage.

Finally, giving tipped workers the full minimum wage is not going to devastate the restaurant industry:

The restaurant industry thrives in equal treatment states. In one of the most comprehensive studies on the minimum wage, researchers aggregated the results of over four decades of studies on the employment effects of the minimum wage. They concluded that there is “little or no significant impact of minimum wage increases on employment.” Affected businesses are typically able to absorb additional labor costs through increases in productivity, reductions in turnover costs, compressing internal wage ladders, and modest price increases. Furthermore, research specific to the tipped minimum wage also found no significant effect on employment.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on June 2, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at DailyKos.

New study reveals just how little Uber drivers make

Tuesday, March 6th, 2018

2017 was a rough year for Uber. The ride-sharing giant was embroiled in a sexual harassment scandalIts CEO resigned. It admitted to underpaying its drivers in New York City, was fined $20 million for making false promises to its drivers, and was banned from one of its biggest overseas markets.

In response, the company has found itself in nearly full-time damage control mode and scrambling to win some positive publicity. Its latest community-orientated offering is the promising Uber Health, which allows medical facilities to book Uber rides for patients who don’t have access to reliable transportation. The program does not require the patient to have access to the Uber app or even a smartphone, according to TechCrunch.

Tips Are More Important Than You Think

Monday, January 22nd, 2018

The Donald Trump Labor Department is proposing a rule change that would mean that restaurant servers and bartenders could lose a large portion of their earnings. The rule would overturn one put in place by the Barack Obama administration initiated, which prevents workers in tipped industries from having their tips taken by their employers. Under the new rule, business owners could pay their wait staff and bartenders as little as $7.25 per hour and keep all tips above that amount without having to tell customers what happened.

new study from the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and the National Employment Law Project shows that waiters and bartenders earn more in tips than they do from their base hourly wage. The median share of hourly earnings they make from tips makes up nearly 59% of waitstaff earnings and 54% of bartenders’ earnings. Allowing employers to take much or all of that tipped income would be a major blow to many working in the restaurant and bar industry.

Workers in these fields are already poorly compensated. A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute and the University of California, Berkeley, found that “median hourly earnings for waiters and bartenders are a meager $10.11 per hour, including tips. That is just $2.86 above the current federal wage floor and far below what workers throughout the country need to make ends meet.”

While proponents of the change suggest that businesses might use the tips to give workers more hours or to subsidize non-tipped employees, but with no requirement for such use of the tipped wages, employers could use them in any way they see fit. EPI analysis found that the new rule would transfer $5.8 billion from workers to employers.

Read the full report.

Fight for $15 Just Scored a Big Win in Maryland. We Have Unions to Thank.

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

A law establishing a $15-an-hour minimum wage in Maryland’s Montgomery County was signed into law Monday, representing a comeback win after a similar measure was defeated by pro-business Democrats just ten months ago.

It’s a meaningful victory for the Fight for $15, the union-inspired campaign to raise wages nationally. Montgomery is the most populous county in the state, with a larger population than the nearby cities of Washington, D.C., or Baltimore. It’s also a bellwether for Maryland politics, where organizing has begun already ahead of the 2018 statewide elections, including organizing aimed at improving Maryland’s wage laws.

“The difference that $15 an hour will make for so many working families cannot be underestimated. And the entire county will benefit as more workers will be able to move off publicly funded programs and spend more on local businesses,” Jaime Contreras, vice president of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 32BJ, told In These Times over email.

Contreras and SEIU have been prominent in the labor coalition that has been supporting a higher minimum wage, along with the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, the Laborers’ International Union of North America and others. “We are really proud of what we have accomplished. As with any compromise, we are not totally pleased, but this is a real step forward,” Jonathan Williams, spokesperson for UFCW Local 400, told In These Times.

“The $15 minimum wage win in Montgomery County comes on the heels of last week’s 11 victories of Fight for $15 supporters Ralph Northam in Virginia and Phil Murphy in New Jersey. It shows the continued power of this movement and builds momentum for state-wide action next year in Maryland and other states,” Christine Owens, executive director of the workers’ advocacy group National Employment Law Project, told In These Times over email.

Satisfaction with the victory notwithstanding, some worker advocates grumbled that the political compromises necessary to solidify support came at a high price for some workers. The compromises had been hammered out over the last several months in response the Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett’s veto of similar legislation approved by the County Council in January.

One of these compromises was an exemption from the law for workers under age 20, a concession to Leggett’s concern that the increase would hurt job opportunities for minority youth. Another compromise extended the phase-in schedule of higher wages so that the $15 minimum does not take effect for small employers until 2023 (50 workers or fewer) or 2024 (10 workers or fewer). For large employers, the new minimum will be phased in through 2021.

Owens said Montgomery “residents should be concerned that county leaders excluded from the full $15 wage younger workers—many of whom are from low-income families or are struggling to work their way through two or four-year colleges—and tipped workers. We urge the county council to revisit and remove these harmful carve-outs.”

Williams added that the UFCW is among those advocating for a state-wide $15 minimum wage bill that could address the problems in some of the carve-outs. Political efforts are initially focusing on selecting a Democratic Party candidate for governor who will be a reliable supporter of $15. Currently, there are numerous candidates in the race, and Democrats are debating who would be the strongest candidate against incumbent Republican Larry Hogan, Williams says.

Hogan is not a supporter of a higher minimum wage and provoked the anger of many workers’ rights advocates in Maryland earlier this year when he vetoed a bill to provide guaranteed sick leave to workers in the state.

UFCW has not endorsed any candidate yet, but SEIU issued an early endorsement of Benjamin Jealous, the former head of the NAACP who is running for governor on a Bernie Sanders-inspired progressive platform, including the $15 minimum wage.

Aside from positive signs in local political races, Fight for $15 recently got a boost from one of the largest private-sector retailers in the country, Target stores. Following worker organizing, Target officials announced in September it would raise the minimum wage for Target employees to $11 an hour this year, with the goal of reaching $15 by the end of 2020. Target currently employs more than 300,000 workers nationwide.

This blog was originally published at In These Times on November 15, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

Seattle's minimum wage increase deals a blow to yet another Republican scare tactic

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

Here’s yet another study that punctures all those scare tactics about what will happen when the minimum wage is raised. Seattle’s minimum wage for large employers went to $13 an hour in 2016—and a recent study from the University of Washington School of Public Health finds that the increase didn’t affect grocery prices in the city:

Otten and colleagues collected data from six supermarket chains affected by the policy in Seattle and from six others outside the city but within King County and unaffected by the policy. They looked at prices for 106 food items per store starting one month before enactment of the ordinance, one month after, and a year later.

Researchers found no significant differences in the cost of the market basket between the two locations at any point in time. A second analysis to assess the public health implications of potential differential price changes on specific items, such as fruits and vegetables, was also conducted and researchers found no evidence of price increases by food group. Meats made up the largest share of the basket, followed by vegetables, cereal, grains and dairy.

So people were earning more money to buy groceries (and other necessities) with, but they weren’t paying more. Add that to Seattle’s booming economy, and the picture looks pretty darn good.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos Labor on September 21, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at DailyKos.

Eight years after the last minimum wage increase, Democrats want to give 41 million workers a raise

Monday, July 24th, 2017

The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since July 24, 2009—for eight years. Thanks to Republicans in Congress and the White House, it won’t be going up any time soon, and though many states have raised their minimum wages, 21 states remain stuck at $7.25 an hour. That’s a poverty wage. A new analysis from the National Employment Law Project shows what the Democrats’ Raise the Wage Act of 2017—which would take the minimum wage up to $15 by 2024, a gradual raise by any standard except the Republican “no raise ever” standard—would do for low-wage workers:

  • 20.7 million workers would see pay raises in the 21 states whose minimum wages are stuck at $7.25.
  • Fully half of the 41.5 million workers who would see pay increases are in the 21 states stuck at $7.25.
  • In the 13 other states with minimum wages of less than $9, nearly 13 million more workers also would see their hourly pay rise.
  • Of all the workers nationwide who would receive raises, 8 in 10 are in the 34 states with the lowest minimum wages.
  • In 19 of the 21 states at $7.25, more than 30 percent of wage-earners would benefit from raising the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2024; the highest share is in Mississippi, with 44.4 percent.

Republicans want these workers stuck at poverty wages. There’s no other serious explanation for their refusal to raise the minimum wage over the past eight years.

 This blog was originally published at DailyKos on July 24, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at DailyKos. 

Seattle's $15 minimum wage raised pay with zero effect on restaurant jobs, new study shows

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017

Raising the minimum wage does not kill jobs, no matter what Republicans tell you—and a new study of the Seattle restaurant industry, where some businesses are already paying a $15 minimum wage, provides another data point showing just that. According to the University of California, Berkeley, study, the increased minimum wage had employment effects that were “not statistically distinguishable from zero,” which is a fancy way of saying “we looked and we could not find a damn thing.” The Seattle Times reports:

Indeed, employment in food service from 2015 to 2016 was not affected, “even among the limited-service restaurants, many of them franchisees, for whom the policy was most binding,” according to the study, led by Berkeley economics professor Michael Reich. […]

It can be hard to separate what impact the wage law had on employment in Seattle versus the effect of the city’s white-hot economy and tight labor market, but “we do our best,” Reich said.

The study compares the wage and employment growth rates in Seattle to a control group of counties, in Washington state and across the U.S., that had similar growth rates as Seattle in the years shortly before the minimum-wage law took effect.

A report issued last year found indications that the increased minimum wage did slightly restrict job growth, but we don’t know if the difference comes from differing methodologies or from the studies covering different time frames. Both studies have to contend with Seattle’s booming economy, which could conceivably mask lowered growth of the job rate for low-wage workers … but which itself refutes the Republican talking points against raising the minimum wage. Because “it’s hard to tell if even more low-wage workers would otherwise be employed because the economy is so darn good” does not exactly back up claims that having the minimum wage be a living wage will destroy the economy.

Hints of Progress for Labor in the United States

Friday, June 9th, 2017

With Donald Trump sitting in the White House and right-wing Republicans controlling Congress, there is not much for labor to cheer about on the American national political scene. In addition, the overall prospect for union organizing does not look very good. Republicans are pursuing policies at both the national and state level to further erode union membership. But with all the bad news, there have been some important victories at the state and local levels that can perhaps lay the groundwork for gains nationally in future years.

The most important of these battles has been the drive for an increase in the minimum wage. The national minimum wage has been set at $7.25 an hour since 2009. In the intervening eight years, inflation has reduced its purchasing power by almost 17%. Measured by purchasing power, the current national minimum wage is more than 25% below its 1968 peak. That is a substantial decline in living standards for the country’s lowest-paid workers.

However, the situation is even worse if we compare the minimum wage to productivity. From 1938, when a national minimum wage was first put in place, until 1968, it was raised in step with the average wage, which in turn tracked economy-wide productivity growth. If the minimum wage had continued to track productivity growth in the years since 1968, it would be almost $20 an hour today, more than two and a half times its current level. That would put it near the current median wage for men and close to the 60th percentile wage for women. This is a striking statement on how unevenly the gains from growth have been shared over the last half century.

The Obama administration tried unsuccessfully to make up some of this lost ground during his presidency. While it may have been possible in his first two years when the Democrats controlled Congress, higher priority was given to the stimulus, health care reform and financial reform. Once the Republicans regained control in 2010, increases in the minimum wage were off the table. Needless to say, it is unlikely (although not impossible) that the Trump administration will take the lead in pushing for a higher minimum wage any time soon.

Although the situation looks bleak nationally, there have been many successful efforts to increase the minimum wage in states and cities across the country in recent years. This effort has been led by unions, most importantly the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), whose “Fight for $15” campaign is pushing to make $15 an hour the nationwide minimum. The drive gained momentum with its endorsement by Bernie Sanders in his remarkable campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination last year. While Sanders was of course defeated for the nomination, his push for a $15 an hour minimum wage won the support of many voters. It is now a mainstream position within the national Democratic Party.

However, the action for the near term is at the state and local levels, where there have been many successes. There are now 29 states that have a minimum wage higher than the national minimum. The leader in this effort is California, which is now scheduled to have a $15 an hour minimum wage as of January 2022. With over 12% of the US population living there, this is a big deal. Washington State is not far behind, with the minimum wage scheduled to reach $13.50 an hour in January 2020. New York State’s minimum wage will rise to $12.50 an hour at the end of 2020 and will be indexed to inflation in subsequent years.

Several cities have also jumped ahead with higher minimum wages. San Francisco and Seattle, two centers of the tech economy, both are set to reach $15 an hour for city minimums by 2020. Many other cities, including New York, Chicago and St. Louis have also set minimum wages considerably higher than the federal and state levels.

What has been most impressive about these efforts to secure higher minimum wages is the widespread support they enjoy. This is not just an issue that appeals to the dwindling number of union members and progressive sympathizers. Polls consistently show that higher minimum wages have the support of people across the political spectrum. Even Republicans support raising the minimum wage, and often by a large margin.

As a result of this support, minimum wage drives have generally succeeded in ballot initiatives when state legislatures or local city councils were not willing to support higher minimums. The last minimum wage increase in Florida was put in place by a ballot initiative that passed in 2004, even as the state voted for George W. Bush for president. Missouri, which has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in this century, approved a ballot initiative for a higher minimum wage in 2006. South Dakota, Nebraska and Arkansas, all solidly Republican states, approved ballot initiatives for higher minimum wages in 2014. In short, this is an issue where the public clearly supports the progressive position.

These increases in state and local minimum wages have meant substantial improvements in the living standards of the affected populations. In many cases, families are earning 20-30% more than they would if the minimum wage had been left at the federal minimum.

In addition, several states, including California, have also put in place measures to give workers some amount of paid family leave and sick days. While workers in Europe have long taken such benefits for granted, most workers in the United States cannot count on receiving paid time off. This is especially true for less-educated and lower-paid workers. In fact, employers in most states do not have to grant unpaid time off and can fire a worker for taking a sick day for themselves or to care for a sick child. So the movement towards requiring paid time off is quite significant for many workers.

This progress should be noted when thinking about the political situation and the plight of working people in the United States, but there are also two important qualifications that need to be added. The first is that there are clearly limits to how far it is possible to go with minimum wage increases before the job losses offset the benefits. Recent research has shown that modest increases can be put in place with few or no job losses, but everyone recognizes that at some point higher minimum wages will lead to substantial job loss. A higher minimum wage relative to economy-wide productivity was feasible in the past because the US had a whole range of more labor-friendly policies in place. In the absence of these supporting policies, we cannot expect the lowest-paid workers to get the same share of the pie as they did half a century ago.

The other important qualification is the obvious one: higher minimum wages do not increase union membership. The SEIU, the AFL-CIO and the member unions that have supported the drive for a higher minimum wage have done so in the best tradition of enlightened unionism. They recognize that a higher minimum wage can benefit a substantial portion of their membership, since it sets a higher base from which they can negotiate upward. Of course, it is also a policy that benefits the working class as a whole. For this reason, unions collectively have devoted considerable resources to advancing the drive to raise the minimum wage.

However, this has put a real strain on their budgets at a time when anti-union efforts are reducing the number of dues-paying members in both the public and private sectors. This will make it more difficult to sustain the momentum for raising minimum wages and mandating employer benefits. For this reason, the good news on the minimum wage must be tempered. It is a rare bright spot for labor in the United States in the last decade, but it will be a struggle to sustain the momentum in the years ahead.

This blog was originally published at CEPR.net on June 7, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author:  Dean Baker co-founded CEPR in 1999. His areas of research include housing and macroeconomics, intellectual property, Social Security, Medicare and European labor markets. He is the author of several books, including Rigged: How Globalization and the Rules of the Modern Economy Were Structured to Make the Rich Richer. His blog, “Beat the Press,” provides commentary on economic reporting. He received his B.A. from Swarthmore College and his Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Michigan

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