November 3, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Jack-O-Lanterns all around town were still grinning wildly on Monday morning as one of the state’s leading critics of the Fight for $15 movement issued perhaps the scariest warning against raising the wage heard thus far: neighborhood pizza joints will die!
Edmund J. McMahon, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and president of the Empire Center for Public Policy made the dire prediction during a live streaming debate presented by the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs.
“Let me suggest that in five years, the only place you’ll be able to buy a pizza upstate is at Domino’s or Pizza Hut,” McMahon told a panel consisting of Hector Figueroa, president, 32BJ SEIU, Paul Sonn, program director, National Employment Law Project [NELP], Jennifer Jones Austin, CEO, Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies and Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City.
According to McMahon, Fight for $15 advocates are overlooking “small family owned businesses” in their zeal to secure a living wage from the fast food giants.
“If your’e willing to entertain that a lot of jobs will be eliminated [if the minimum wage is raised to $15], you have to consider how big of a trade off you have to make,” McMahon said. “Small family owned businesses all over the state are less able to absorb a shock to their system.”
Sonn, however, countered that there is absolutely no evidence raising the minimum wage automatically leads to a reduction in employment or slows business growth.
The NELP director cited Seattle’s record number of business licenses issued in the wake of the Fight for $15 movement, as well as the “sky high” unemployment rate among young people of color throughout New York State where the minimum still stands at a lowly $8.75 an hour.
“The obstacles to the minimum wage have always been political rather than economic,” Sonn said.
The minimum wage for fast food workers in New York State is set to slowly rise to $15 an hour over the next three to five years. Low-workers in a myriad of other industries, however, are only guaranteed a minimum wage of $9 an hour by year’s end.
“We need to be thinking differently,” Figueroa said. “We need to build the power of labor unions, if we are going to influence the conditions of workers. Fundamentally, you cannot survive individually.”
SEIU has powered the fast food movement across the country, but the head of 32BJ insisted that government must work to “restore the reality” of affordable housing, affordable education and respect for worker rights.
“The gains at the top continue to go to few people,” Figueroa added. “It’s eroding the fabric of our democracy. We still have time to take a different path, but not doing so will create great problems in the future.”