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September 5, 2014

Renewing the Election-Year Push for a Minimum Wage Hike

It’s a winning populist strategy because the reality is hard to see.

Those of you reading this from major metro areas may have noticed the outsized news coverage of a fast-food industry walkout, with dozens arrested around the country according to a website supporting the worker uprising. Workers and organizers involved argue the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is not enough and are demanding a new pay rate of $15 per hour. Note, however, they’re not pledging to be more productive.

In support of this effort, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which is trying to get in on the ground floor of organizing these workers, urged union home care workers in several cities to join in the protests. SEIU president Mary Kay Henry said protesters are “invoking civil rights history to make the case that these jobs ought to be paid $15 and these companies ought to recognize a union.” Never mind that such a drastic rise in the wages of a fast-food worker would increase prices an estimated 38%, or that it would hasten the ongoing changeover to automation in the industry.

Still, it’s a populist issue with emotional appeal pitting the cold, heartless mega-corporations against those struggling to get by. Generally, the media coverage focuses on the single mother trying to make ends meet – and there are many of them – but the media don’t ask about the effect this could have on the franchisees who actually own and operate the restaurants, or the jobs of the employees who would then be more expensive.

Naturally, the Leftmedia are helping Democrats. And being an election year, Democrats are flailing for an issue – any issue – to divert the public’s attention from a struggling economy, their unpopular stance on immigration, and Barack Obama’s disastrous policies both foreign and domestic. They’re hoping that this minimum wage issue is a winner.

On Labor Day weekend, Obama embraced the fast-food workers’ movement in a speech in Milwaukee. Earlier, he used his weekly radio address to press again for an increase in the minimum wage. “Raising the minimum wage would be one of the best ways to give a boost to working families,” he said, adding, “If I … wanted an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, I’d join a union.” It’s obvious he’s never actually operated a business, or even had a real job for that matter.

Republicans argue a federally mandated minimum wage increase of 40% would be counterproductive – an argument bolstered by a Congressional Budget Office minimum wage study earlier this year estimating the proposed hike could cost 500,000 or more jobs. But the optics of a single mom trying to support a family have greater appeal with average voters than talkingheads rattling off statistics, and Democrats know this. It’s why some lawmakers are pressuring Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to vote on a minimum wage bill when Congress returns next Monday, sensing an opportunity to excite a base that Democrats desperately need in order to hold the Senate.

For the people on the streets, though, it’s not about politics but the chance to enrich themselves. “We may not have a union yet,” said Kansas City Wendy’s worker Latoya Caldwell, a single mother of four who was arrested in the protests there. “But we’re acting like we do.” Unfortunately, a union like this may well price its members right out of a job.

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