Tayer: Minimum Wage — Substantive Engagement v. Checking a Box
Have you ever felt like someone really didn’t care what you think? You know, they may ask if you mind that they run their lawn mower at 7 a.m. on Sunday, and it isn’t electric. It’s more of a heads-up than a genuine expression of concern about disturbing your sleep.
Well, when it comes to proposals under consideration for raising the minimum wage and engagement with the business community . . . it’s beginning to feel a lot like certain advocates for approving an increase before the end of the year are just checking the box.
The state law that authorizes local governments to adopt their own higher minimum wage rates requires “engagement” with chambers of commerce in their public process. The Boulder Chamber views this condition as both an opportunity and responsibility. It is an opportunity to clearly articulate the potential negative and positive impacts of a minimum wage increase on our local businesses and the economy. It’s also a responsibility to engage thoughtfully on minimum wage increase proposals and the economic equity goals they are designed to achieve.
Without getting into details, suffice to say that many local businesses are on shaky footing due to economic conditions. Forcing those employers to pay even an extra dollar per minimum wage employee means a roughly $2,000 annual cost. While a typical business may not have very many minimum wage employees, you can be sure that those who get paid above the minimum wage will be expecting to see their wages increased proportionately, and so on up the pay scale. The cost to businesses can add up quickly.
Of course, I’m not blind to the signs around town offering pay rates well above the minimum wage of $13.65 per hour for typically low-paying jobs. Those signs, though, don’t tell the full story of wage rates at many of our local nonprofits, businesses that hire large numbers of youths and seniors, and for tipped employees. As an example, with respect to one business that hires a number of high school students during the summer months who would not otherwise get the chance at their first job . . . and may not be ready for it.
The operations plan for many of these businesses relies on the current minimum wage rate. Their staff team members are also quite comfortable with that arrangement in exchange for their services and the opportunity for employment in a field that may align with their passion, diminished capacity and/or somewhat looser expectations. A blithe disregard of either these employee sentiments or the conditions that keep a business operational is both disrespectful and dangerous.
The Boulder Chamber was the only chamber of commerce across Colorado to support the 2016 ballot initiative that increased the statewide minimum wage. We took that position because we recognize the corrosive effects of income inequality. We also recognize that such a broad statewide approach to increasing the minimum wage would protect Boulder businesses against unfair competition from communities that aren’t raising the minimum wage.
It’s in the same spirit that we are always open to a dialogue regarding the appropriateness of our minimum wage rate. That means, though, true engagement that gives full voice to the concerns of our local businesses and works to identify solutions. Further, we expect such a discussion would include detailed analysis and response to the expected economic and business impacts.
As we’ve made clear previously, any action on a future minimum wage increase also must run in parallel with a full understanding of the consequences for these actions. We want to make sure that we are identifying and tracking the baseline metrics to determine how our employees, businesses and economy fared. As an example, an analysis of this nature in Minneapolis identified serious consequences for employees in terms of reduced jobs, hours and wages.
So, yes, state law gives elected local government officials the opportunity to raise the minimum wage. But it also gives them the responsibility to engage with their chambers of commerce before taking such a consequential action. The Boulder Chamber, along with the perspective that our businesses can share about the impacts for their employees and operations, stands ready to participate constructively in that dialogue.
What we can not abide, though, are those who would simply check the box in their consideration of concerns for our businesses and economy and in the rush to meet an end of year deadline. That checked box and uninformed action might mean the difference in sales tax dollars that feed our government coffers, a service your residents appreciate and a job your constituent loves.
John Tayer is president and CEO of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at 303-442-1044, ext 110 or email@example.com.