Last week, Fight for $15 protesters engaged in another round of coordinated, nationwide fast-food protests to agitate for dramatic minimum wage increases. This tired strategy was greeted with a collective yawn by the public.
These protests were a microcosm for the Fight for $15 movement as a whole, which has recently suffered a series of high-profile setbacks.
Last week, New Mexico Gov. Susanna Martinez vetoed a state wage hike, pointing to its consequences for small businesses. And in Maine, legislators – at the urging of restaurant servers – are poised to roll back harmful minimum wage provisions passed by ballot measure on Election Day.
Last month, Baltimore Democratic Mayor Catherine Pugh vetoed a $15 minimum wage. City analyses predicted the wage hike would have raised city payroll costs by $115 million over four years. Employers in the city told her they would be forced to reduce job opportunities and move outside city limits if the law took effect.
Also last month, the city of Flagstaff voted to roll back its forthcoming $12 minimum wage after numerous municipal small businesses like Cultured Yogurt dessert shop and Country Host restaurant were forced to close as a result.
In Iowa, state legislators recently voted to set one minimum wage at the state level and eliminate the patchwork of local minimum wage increases around the state. Missouri legislators are working to do the same. Last summer, Cleveland’s Democratic city council voted against a $15 minimum wage, then worked with state legislators to set state preemption on this issue.
What’s reversing the Fight for $15’s momentum?
It could come down to money. An analysis of new labor department data by the Center for Union Facts reveals that the Service Employees International Union has spent $90 million on the Fight for $15 between 2012 and 2016. But late last year, it was reported that the SEIU was slashing its budget by nearly a third – meaning less money to pay for high-priced propaganda about dramatic starter wage increases.
The Fight for $15 is likely also losing steam because of the hangover effects taking place in the handful of cities and states that have already experimented with such wage hikes. In California’s Bay Area, one of the first parts of the country to pass a $15 standard, there has been what one local publication calls a “death march” of restaurant closures. Many of the business owners have cited the minimum wage or “the price of labor” as a major reason for their decision to close down.
Across the country in New York, which passed a $15 minimum wage last year, numerous independent restaurants have also closed down, laid off staff, or reduced hours because of the costs associated. The Del Rio Diner in Brooklyn was forced to close its doors after 40 years in business, with owner Larry Georgeton saying, “The minimum wage, that’s what broke the camel’s back. It killed us.” Longway’s diner in Watertown is no longer open 24/7, and P.J. Clarke’s in New York City has stopped hiring bus boys because of the wage hike’s costs.
This isn’t just a restaurant problem. Low-margin businesses, including daycares, bookstores, and call centers, have all been victims of dramatic minimum wage increases taking place in pockets across the country.
Whether lawmakers are recognizing the job loss consequences of the Fight for $15 or just not being influenced by as much Big Labor money, the result is the same: More starter job opportunities for young and less-skilled employees across the country.
(Michael Saltsman is managing director at the Employment Policies Institute, where Jordan Bruneau is senior research analyst.)