Advocates of a higher minimum wage have scaled back their push for a $15-an-hour rate, holding fewer events this year than they have since the movement began in 2014. The slowdown has critics of the movement claiming that their pushback is working.
The Employment Policy Institute, a conservative advocacy group, reports that liberal activists said they held 340 strikes or other protests in cities across the nation last year, but have held 33 events so far this year. In the vast majority of those cases, the events was piggybacking on other protests.
"The campaign previously held two to three national strikes per year, sometimes supplemented by smaller regional strikes. In 2017, the organization's only national branded effort was a co-sponsored strike with 'Black Lives Matter' occurring in just 30 cities," the Employment Policy Institute noted Thursday.
The group based its numbers on the events that the activists promoted. The $15 minimum wage movement's events often didn't draw the crowds that the groups said were coming and the events typically were heavily represented by activists who didn't actually work at the places being protested. The fact that 2016 was an election year gave the activists a strong incentive to stage events.
"The fact that there was such a strong slump in the number of events that they would even claim to have is highly suggestive," said Michael Saltsman, EPI's managing director, told the Washington Examiner, noting that even that can require the activists to spend substantial amounts on public relations firms.
The $15 minimum wage movement was largely the brainchild of David Rolf, president of Service Employees International Union Local 775, which represents Washington state workers. He was instrumental in getting Seattle-Tacoma to adopt a $15 rate in 2014, which boosted similar efforts in other cities and states. SEIU, which claims more than 2 million members, poured at least $12.7 million in 2016 into various organizing committees involved in staging protests and other events, according to its annual LM-2 filing with the Labor Department. That includes $3.6 million to the Fast Food Workers Committee, the main group behind the "Fight For $15" movement, as well as nearly $9 million to various regional workers committees engaged in similar activism.
The movement was successful in getting states like New York and California, among other places, to phase in $15 rates. However, the union has downsized in the last year, cutting its budget by 10 percent in January in anticipation of membership losses due to the Democrats' 2016 election losses.
New research suggests the minimum wage movement may be hurting low-income workers more than helping them. A June study by the University of Washington found that Seattle's increase of its minimum wage to $13 an hour, part of a planned hike to $15, led to reduced employment for those workers and cut hours for those who kept their jobs. That undid the effects of the higher wages under the law.
"The lost income associated with the hours reductions exceeds the gain associated with the net wage increase of 3.1 percent. ... We compute that the average low-wage employee was paid $1,897 per month. The reduction in hours would cost the average employee $179 per month, while the wage increase would recoup only $54 of this loss, leaving a net loss of $125 per month (6.6 percent), which is sizable for a low-wage worker," the study concluded.