The statement today from the Washington Restaurant Association in support of higher wages is perhaps the strongest indicator yet of how much our state’s politics have changed since fast food workers first went on strike for $15/hour. Three years ago, before fast food and airport workers led the way, there was zero political will to raise wages in our state.
“If the restaurant association is truly prepared to push for a statewide $15 minimum wage without loopholes, carve-outs, or subminimum exceptions for their industry, let’s make it happen,” said Sejal Parikh, Executive Director of Working Washington. “But if it’s a stalling tactic, it’s not going to work: from Olympia to Yakima, workers are in motion and will continue to push forward and insist that every elected official at every level of government in every community does what it takes to raise wages and boost local economies. It’s the job of our elected leaders to lead the way and lift up their communities — and this move doesn’t change that in the least.”
“We applaud this step forward and hope to see all the other big business lobby groups get out of the way of workers rights too,” Parikh continued. “It’s about time — and it’s another reason why workers will continue to push at all levels of government for higher wages, rights on the job, and thriving communities for all.”
Make no mistake: it’s an extraordinary development that our state’s industry lobby group for chain restaurants and hotels — with the likes of McDonald’s on their board — has now been compelled to publicly support higher wages. But there are some key bits left out of their new statement. At the moment, all they’ve really made clear is that they support at least $9.48/hour statewide, with maybe some loopholes and subminimum exceptions?
Working Washington would love to see citywide, statewide, national, or even intergalactic solutions that ensure every worker is paid enough to support themselves, afford the basics, and contribute to the economy, so every community can thrive. But let’s be honest: perhaps the biggest reason this hasn’t happened yet is due to the efforts of the Washington Restaurant Association itself, along with its national affiliates. Time and time again they have opposed higher wages and even pushed for special new categories of subminimum wages at the city level, at the county level, at the state level, and at the national level.
Remember in 2008 when they threatened that an $8.55 minimum wage would be “crippling” to the industry. (Restaurant jobs are way up since then.) Or in 2011 when they said a $9.04 minimum wage would make “tough times tougher”? (Restaurant employment increased 4.7% the next year.) Or in 2012 when they claimed a $9.19 minimum wage would force 66% of restaurants to cut jobs. (Restaurant jobs increased by 8,000 that year.) That didn't do much to advance the debate.
But today, it’s not just people like us who see ample evidence that higher wages and a stronger economy go hand in hand. The Puget Sound Business Journal is also reporting on “Apocalypse Not: $15 and the Cuts that Never Came.”
Welcome to the party.