While they still control the legislative agenda, Republicans on the House Education and the Workforce Committee planned to use their power to falsely claim that raising the minimum wage would somehow be bad for workers. To do so, they planned a hearing on the federal minimum wage titled “Mandating a $15 Minimum Wage: Consequences for Workers and Small Businesses,” with a full list of biased and unreliable witnesses ready to back them up. At the last minute, however, archived posts from one of their witnesses’ revealed a disturbing history of homophobia and sexism, causing Republicans to postpone the event. Still, it’s worth taking a deeper dive into just who Republicans called upon to sway public opinion away from a living wage to show just how intellectually bankrupt their argument really is.
Beyond being the witness who authored horrible blog posts which called for taxes on gay activities and slutshamed college girls, San Diego State University Economic Professor Joseph Sabia has also made a career on misleading and obfuscating “research” suggesting raising the minimum wage is bad for workers and businesses. With most data on raising the minimum wage firmly contradicting this, it’s no surprise House Republicans called on Sabia to tout old tropes and disproven talking points to turn public opinion against a living wage.
In a Cato Institute article from 2014, Sabia calls minimum wages “a poor way to reduce poverty,” and claims that minimum wages are “poorly targeted to those in need.” This is simply not supported by research, and is easily disproved. University of North Carolina professor and economist William Lester found no correlation between minimum wage increases and employment levels after analyzing the 22 times the federal minimum wage increased. So what did Sabia find that to make him say otherwise?
Sabia and a colleague “estimated” the effect on past minimum wage increases and poverty, and found the increases were ineffective at reducing overall poverty levels. To say that raising the minimum wage by a small amount was insufficient to end poverty in America isn’t proof that we shouldn’t raise the minimum wage, it’s an indicator that past increases have been too small. That’s like your doctor giving you a single aspirin to relieve intense post-surgery pain, and then saying that pain relievers must not work if that aspirin didn’t fix all of your pain. It’s a ridiculous premise.
Simone Barron, director of Seattle’s Full Service Workers Alliance and one of Republicans’ witnesses, has a history of suggesting tipped workers are empowered by their pay structure, and will leave the industry if receiving tips is no longer an option.
Beyond her view being disproved by basic facts, as well as the stories of many of her peers, the idea that adopting a no-tipping policy is bad because it’s the same as “a stagnant hourly rate that’s not maximized by your abilities or skill,” is absurd. Yes, that’s one way to put it, but the other would be to call it a job where you’re paid like the hundreds of millions of other American employees that aren’t tipped, and where skill and commendable abilities generally results in bonuses and agreed-upon raises, not an extra dollar here or there based on whether or not a customer thinks you were nice enough to them.
But let’s look closer at what Barron is saying. Apparently, she thinks tipped workers are as close to participating in a meritocracy as any worker in this country will get. Assuming that were true, the vast majority tipped workers in this country must be terrible at their jobs. At least, that’s what the numbers suggest. In DC, for example, the median hourly wage of tipped workers, including tips, was just $11.86/hr last year. The average, which is less than $6/hr more, is skewed by the city’s high-end dining scene, and at just $17.48/hr is still not enough to afford an apartment in DC, where rent ranges from $1,500-$1,800 a month for a one-bedroom, and landlords want renters to make as much as three times that amount a month.
Barron also claimed that “control over my earnings is one of the greatest perks of working as a tipped employee.” The definition of control is “the power to influence or direct people’s behavior or the course of events.” In no way, shape, or form can tipped workers direct customers on how much to tip them, or to tip them at all. In fact, relying on tips to make ends meet puts one’s finances completely out of their control.
Once again, let’s look at the facts. Women and people of color, and in particular women of color, are tipped disproportionately less within the industry. While Barron would probably blame this on their presentation, skills, or other personal defect, studies show it is simply discrimination.
It’s clear that Ms. Barron and most tipped workers have had very different experiences while working within the industry, and that’s fine. What isn’t okay, however, is that now that Ms. Barron is no longer bussing tables, she is actively working against making life easier for her former peers. If Republicans want to make a sound argument against paying all Americans, including tipped workers, a living wage, they should look at the average minimum wage worker’s experience, not exceptions to the rules who benefit from casting negative aspersions on others.
The last Republican witness, Adventure Park USA owner Larry Stottlemyer, appears to be focused less on a policy agenda and more on making sure he makes as much money as possible while keeping his workers in their place.
Rather than ensure his workers make a respectable minimum wage, which experts say would be $19.33/hr if the federal minimum grew at the same rate as American productivity, or even $11.62/hr if adjusted for average growth, Stottlemyer would like to keep things as they are, where he makes lots of money and his workers struggle to get by. This is hardly a surprise coming from a man who has publicly stated his opposition to mandated paid sick leave, a policy that is incredibly common in the rest of the developed world and that most Americans support. A business owner that would prefer to force his employees to work (around primarily children, no less) while they’re ill, is not someone that we should be listening to about wage and worker policy.