‘Fight for $15’ Tries to Take Credit for Market-Driven Wage Hike

Target announced it will raise its starting wage for employees to $11 an hour by October, to better compete for holiday workers. But Fight for $15 activists are trying to claim it as a victory of their own.

The retail giant also said that starting pay would be $15 by 2020.

This was driven by market forces including the desire to stand out from a pack of lower-paying retailers all in search of the best employees in a tightening labor market. As one Forbes columnist put it, the voluntary decision by Target proved “Fight for $15” is “Unnecessary.”

In spite of that, the “Fight for $15” activists and others on the left used the news to claim it was a “huge victory” and demand other businesses do the same thing. Ebony used the phrase “Fight for 15” in its headline about Target’s wage increases, while Upworthy touted it as “another battle won in the fight for $15” and a reflection of “a strengthening movement to increase the national minimum wage.

Since Fight for $15 began protesting and pressuring businesses and governments to raise minimum wages, some California cities and Seattle did establish higher minimums. In those places, researchers say higher wage requirements contributed to restaurant failures, more restaurant hygiene violations and lost wages for low-skilled workers.

Still, Common Dreams celebrated Target’s decision and tried to link it to the activists. They published a story headlined, “‘Our Momentum is Unstoppable’: Workers Celebrate As Target Announces $15 Minimum Wage.”

While most national media didn’t jump to connect the two, the liberal Washington Post made sure to tell reader “Labor groups see the raise as a victory after a five-year campaign to significantly boost pay for low-income workers.” The Post previously covered the labor protests sympathetically, like many other liberal news outlets which cheered wage increases and skewed reports in favor of hike proponents..

Common Dreams quoted an email from Fight for $15 organizer and McDonald’s employee Steven Suffridge who said, "Five years ago, when 200 New York City fast-food workers first walked off the job for $15 an hour and union rights, nobody gave us a shot. Since then, we've spread this movement to every corner of the country and beyond fast-food. We did what they said we couldn't: we won. We won in the states, in the cities, with the big politicians and with the big corporations."

"And today, we won $15 an hour for all Target employees," Suffridge claimed. Foul-mouthed Wonkette blog also quoted Suffridge in a post clearly from the side of workers who “demand decent” wages.

Although Fight for $15 protesters have called for the legal minimum wage to be nearly doubled (to $15). The federal minimum wage in $7.25 an hour, but some states and cities have higher minimum wage requirements. The activists have often called out particular businesses since starting a crusade against fast-food chains 2012. Forbes columnist Michael Saltsman argued that Target’s decision has nothing to do with them and proof government mandates are unnecessary to get higher wages.

“It's not unusual for companies to raise employee pay above the minimum wage absent government action; in fact, it's routine. Consider: During the years between our last two federal minimum wage increases--one in 1996-1997, and again in 2007-2009--the number of hourly employees earning at or below the federal minimum dropped every year. By 2006, just two percent of the hourly workforce was paid the federal minimum wage,” Michael Saltsman of the Employment Policies Institute wrote for Forbes.

Saltsman added, “Target's decision to increase its store minimum wage to $15 an hour is another example of how wages rise in a free economy--by choice, not by government mandate.”

Seattle Higher Wages Leaves Dirty Restaurants and Fewer Low-Wage Jobs

One of the cities lauded for raising wages is Seattle, which pushed it to $13 per hour in 2016 with a plan to get to $15 per hour eventually.

But “not all is rosy” there, according to researchers. US News & World Report said the National Bureau of Economic Research released a paper in June suggesting the number of hours worked “in low-skill professions dropped more than 9 percent in Seattle” and “low-wage jobs declined” by about 5,000 positions — overlapping with the minimum wage boost.

“[T]he study found that the net cons of the minimum wage uptick outweighed the pros by a measure of three-to-one and that low-wage workers lost an average of $125 per month as a result of the ordinance, which increased hourly wages by 3 percent while dragging on payroll totals and hours worked,” according to US News & World Report.

Another “unexpected effect” of minimum wage hikes seems to be poorer restaurant hygiene. NPR reported on Sept. 13, that hygiene violations in Seattle restaurants rose as wages climbed.

Ball State University researcher Srikant Devaraj told NPR’s Morning Edition, “We find that a dollar increase in minimum wage resulted in a 6.4 percent increase in overall health violations and 15.2 percent increase in less severe violations as a result of the [wage] increases.”

Why? The researchers think that restaurants scaled back certain services rather than pass costs on to customers, but admitted “we don’t know what the long-term trends are.”

In California’s Bay area, a Harvard study found that higher minimum wages increased the number of restaurant closures and resulted in fewer new ones opening.

“The study found that a $1 increase in the minimum wage increases the overall likelihood of a restaurant going out of business by 4% to 10%,” Erin Shannon of the Washington Policy Center wrote. That leaves inexpensive and lower-ranked restaurants, their employees and their patrons on the losing end of higher wage policies.

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Julia A. Seymour's picture