Fast-food workers in 150 cities across the United States protested on Thursday, demanding that their employers pay them at least $15 per hour—a campaign called Fight for 15 being led by the Service Employees International Union.
The protests even led to many arrests in Detroit, Pittsburgh and New York.
The call for higher wages in the fast-food industry echoes the debates happening in many cities and states over the minimum wage. Seattle and several other local and state governments have enacted new, much higher minimum wages this year; labor activists and low-wage workers say paying all workers a “livable wage” will help the economy by putting more money in the pockets of people who need it.
While the calls for higher wages are now mostly focused on the fast-food industry and companies like McDonald’s and Taco Bell, the issue could have spillover effects for many small businesses.
If fast-food chains start paying their workers more to appease the protesters, it could compel many small employers to raise their wages as well. Many small businesses already pay their workers more than minimum wage in order to attract and retain talented employees—and a survey by the Democrat-leaning Small Business Majority found that 65 percent of business owners feel the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 isn’t enough. But when the bottom wages rise, business owners realistically have to raise their wages to keep up and ensure they can attract workers.
A recent survey by the National Small Business Association found that nearly half of small businesses increased their wages in the first six months of 2014 and 50 percent expected to increase their wages in the second half of the year. That suggests that many small businesses are already feeling like they need to raise their wages in order to stay competitive as the job market tightens.
An editorial in The Telegraph of Alton, Illinois argues that a $15 minimum wage could spell disaster for local economies by forcing many local businesses to lay off workers:
With little relief to the job market pressures expected anytime soon, it wouldn’t hurt businesses large and small to review and reconsider their pay scales. But to force a $15-an-hour minimum wage into place would be disastrous. The immediate results would be a thinning of the workforce for those businesses affected by the change. Companies would still have to remain beholden to the bottom line. If a store has two people, both earning minimum wage, and the minimum wage doubles, the clear balancing act would involve cutting the number of employees in half.
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