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What the midterm elections revealed about restaurants' political resolve

Working Lunch: The industry proved it won't win on key ballot issues if it doesn't put up a fight.

Has the restaurant industry lost its fire for fighting wage hikes?

Apathy likely figured into the industry’s failure to fend off an increase in Nebraska’s minimum wage and preserve the tip credit in Washington, D.C., according to this week’s Working Lunch podcast.

Both developments were the result of ballot initiatives pushed by organized labor. In both instances, the drive was met with little resistance from operators, noted the government-affairs veterans who used this week’s installment to analyze how the restaurant industry fared in the midterm elections.

Maybe operators’ resolve was weakened by wages already surpassing the proposed new minimum for Nebraska of $15 an hour. Or maybe the industry was resigned to defeat, seeing how much organized labor was spending to push through the increase.

“It’s kind of created this pre-surrender dynamic, that there’s not a lot of interest in fighting this thing,” said Michael Saltzman, a partner with the public policy firm Berman & Co. “All Nebraska tells us is you can’t win if you don’t fight.”

Contrast that, he and co-hosts Joe Kefauver and Franklin Coley noted, with what happened in Portland, Maine, where proposals to raise the minimum to $18 an hour and kill the tip credit were handily defeated. The industry was organized and willing to expend money and effort, with ample assistance from restaurant employees.

Still, “there are very few robustly funded reactions to increasing the minimum wage,” noted Saltzman.

What does that decline in fighting spirit portend for future battles, including the likelihood that clones of California’s revolutionary Fast Act will be proposed in other states?

Find out by downloading this week’s edition of Working Lunch from wherever you get your podcasts.

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