Minimum Wage Messaging Toolkit: Ways to combat the tactics that attempt to divide us
By Leah Scrivener
The arguments against a raised minimum wage are rooted in corporate interest that seeks to put profit over people, and are devoid of any concern for low-income Americans. These carefully designed arguments are scare tactics to intimidate, divert, and confuse the American public, who may not yet see how the corporatocracy drives the widening gap between the rich and the poor in this country.
Disturbingly, the Food & Beverage industry is at the forefront of the opposition: just this year, the industry funneled $43 million against any minimum wage increases. The opposition’s persuasive messaging seeks to “divide and conquer” the food movement, pitting large-scale commercial farmers against small-scale organic farmers; against restaurant workers; against migrant farm workers and against low-income communities who live in food deserts.
Big Food corporations cite the same arguments whenever there is a proposed or mandated increase in workers’ benefits. Whether it’s through the minimum wage, paid sick days or employee healthcare via the Affordable Care Act, big companies claim that they cannot afford the increased expenditures and that any changes will ultimately hurt working people the hardest. These arguments are disingenuous and they distract from the fact that the largest employers of low-wage workers are extremely profitable, and while low-wage workers’ salaries remain stagnant, corporate executives receive millions of dollars in compensation each year.
Large corporations have not conceded anything without a fight, and they have proven to be experts at finding loopholes to avoid giving benefits to their workers. This messaging toolkit can be used as a way to debunk the myths that divide us and help spread education to our communities so we can stand as a united front.
Argument 1: “Any increase in the minimum wage will cause the price of food and other basic necessities to increase.”
Response: It sounds reasonable that a raised wage floor would cause the price of goods to increase, thereby hitting hardest on working class folks—the very people whom the wage sets out to benefit in the first place. But, the recent Dime a Day report, put out by the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), discounts this popular argument and asserts that if the Fair Minimum Wage Act were to pass, the price of goods would rise by less than half of one percent over three years. This negligible increase would not have the catastrophic effect that many conservative economists would suggest.
Argument 2: “Small businesses will be hurt the hardest if the minimum wage increases.”
Response: A recent July 2012 report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) explains that “mom and pop shops” are not the largest employer of low-wage workers; instead, large corporations with over 100 employees are the ones who employ 66 percent of America’s low-wage workers. In other words, an increase to the minimum wage would impact large corporations the most, and so naturally they have the most invested in opposing it.
Argument 3: “If the minimum wage increases, businesses will not be able to afford to pay their workers, leading to lay-offs and reduced hours.”
Response: This argument is a classic scare tactic promoted by the companies who would be disproportionately affected, i.e. the highest-grossing companies in the United States, that also happen to employ the highest percentage of low-wage workers. The message they send is: “If you fight us, you put your livelihood at risk.”
Big companies compete with each other for efficiency and profits, and in order to do so, the cost of labor is the first to go on the chopping block. Their business model keeps workers’ wages fixed, even as the companies bring in a wealth of profit. The NELP report explains that the top 50 largest low-wage employers have, by and large, experienced profit growth since the recession, and yet their workers have not received a pay raise since the 2009 federal minimum wage hike.
And so, when they claim that they will have to cut workers, what they are saying is that they refuse to share profits across the company; instead they funnel millions of dollars of profits into the hands of their executives.
Argument 4: “The minimum wage is designed as a jumping-off point for teenagers to get a foot into the job market. Therefore, an increased minimum wage would just put more spending money in the pockets of teenagers. They won’t have a strong work ethic unless they are motivated to work harder to get a raise.”
Response: The reality is that the vast majority of Americans in minimum wage jobs are adults. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 23% of workers who earn at or below the minimum wage are 16 to 19 years old. 26% of those workers are 20 to 25 years old, and 50% of those workers are age 25 and older.
Many people spend their entire working lives in low-wage jobs without promotions because they do not “look or act the part,” or they do not have the right connections, or they have had poor education. Their only pay raises come when the minimum wage increases. For these workers, working two to three jobs is the only way to support themselves and their families.