Resistance is futile

The industry’s fought hard against a $15 minimum wage. Now, it’s time to pick a new number.

This is a good time to be a union that’s focused on the service sector. Skunks, by all accounts from the forest, also are having an exceptional run. One of the challenges this year for restaurateurs will be helping their employees see the similarities in those two parties.  If employers are smart, they’ll make the task easier by holding their noses and doing the right thing.

Trying to avert a minimum-wage hike at this point is like convincing a teenage daughter that nunneries just have a bad rap.  The reality is that more raises are coming. The best bet is trying to inject some sense and reality into the process of deciding what’s a fair increase, instead of arguing that a $9-and-change minimum is just as unacceptable as a $15 rate.

Unions have marketed a doubling of the hourly rate as the only responsible choice for any citizen with a heart, and that emotional appeal appears to be winning converts. Not surprisingly, organized labor is pushing a nay-or-yea vote on wage increases to the ballot, bypassing legislators. The Service Employees International Union already has vowed to ask the public in more than 20 states to decide in 2016 if their minimum wage should be increased. 

Pitched resistance is often needed to convince a mere few dozen lawmakers that a big jump in the starting pay rate would backfire into something detrimental to the public. How could it be easier for the business community to sway registered voters by the tens of thousands?

The restaurant industry should say yes to a minimum-wage hike, and focus its energies on determining the size of the increase and the schedule for implementing it. A dialogue also would afford an opportunity to explain to voters how a tip credit works and why it’s not inhumane, for any party, to preserve it. Maintaining that creative pay arrangement becomes a reasonable concession from the other side.

If you’re ready to tie a noose and look up my address, brace yourself: After seeing daily reports from coast to coast of unions’ success in pushing paid-sick-leave proposals, I’m convinced the industry is mistaken to maintain a no-way-no-how attitude on that issue, too. The strategy should be to put a realistic spin on the initiatives, too, not thwart them altogether.

Consider the situation that was unfolding in Oregon at press time.  Lawmakers want to require restaurateurs and other employers of all sizes to provide up to seven days of paid sick leave per year. If a new venture is staffed by the proprietor, a spouse and one paid employee, labor costs could double if the one person drawing a paycheck should get sick. 

Wouldn’t it be better for the industry to accept the concept and focus on shaping the details?

That approach would rob unions of the Robin Hood image they carefully cultivated in 2014. Employees would see absolutely no reason to pay a portion of their wages to a third party if employers showed every sign of giving them a fair deal without the expense.
It may be time to embrace that notion and avoid a situation that really stinks, like a unionized restaurant industry.


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