You know that story about how businesses large and small are steadfastly and uniformly opposed to raising the minimum wage? It’s the story that Chamber of Commerce and industry groups’ lobbyists peddle in the halls of Congress, in state legislatures and city councils across the country to try to stop minimum wage increases. And lawmakers who listen assume those lobbyists are speaking for a vast majority of the business owners and company executives who comprise their groups’ members. So of course many of those lawmakers will oppose raising the minimum wage, because they’re told by Chamber lobbyists it’s what business executives want.
Turns out, though, that story is fiction. Or, more precisely, it’s a lie. And a big, very big lie at that.
Last week, The Washington Post broke a story, based on leaked polling research conducted for a national umbrella group of chambers of commerce and other documents obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy, showing that 80 percent of CEOs, business owners and executives at companies of all sizes actually support raising the minimum wage in their states, while only 8 percent opposed.
Perhaps that’s worth repeating. By a margin of 80 to 8, a poll conducted late last year of one thousand business executives who are members of a local, state or national Chamber of Commerce shows overwhelming support for raising the minimum wage.
The poll was conducted by the opinion research firm LuntzGlobal, headed by leading Republican pollster Frank Luntz, on behalf of the Council of State Chambers, and described in a webinar for lobbyists and chamber officials presented by LuntzGlobal managing director David Merritt. Asked during the webinar specifically about the minimum wage as to whether the surveyed business executives “are worried about raising it, or do they actually want to see it raised,” Merritt answered “No, they actually support raising it,” adding “it’s undeniable that they support” raising the minimum wage.
“We’ve actually looked at this issue a number of different ways,” Merritt continued. “We’ve done focus groups on it, as part of policy discussions, and this is universal. If you’re fighting against the minimum wage increase, you’re fighting an uphill battle, because most Americans, even most Republicans are okay with raising the minimum wage.”
Raising the minimum wage is so broadly popular, Merritt conceded, that the best way he suggested for thwarting it is to try to focus on a host of “other priorities” as a means of diverting lawmakers’ and the public’s attention.
The webinar was clearly not intended to be for public consumption, but it’s undeniably public now.
Also notable in the poll are results showing very strong support from business executives for policies to mandate paid sick time (73 percent support; 16 percent oppose), maternity (72 to 9) and paternity leave (82 to 7), and fair scheduling (78 to 11) – all policies that Chamber of Commerce lobbyists strenuously oppose. And among a list of businesses’ priorities for lawmakers, “state preemption of local mandates” (such as higher local minimum wages and paid leave policies) came in dead last.
The Washington Post story exposing the chambers’ lobbyists’ lies on the minimum wage, and these other progressive workplace issues, came out on the same day that the governors of both California and New York signed into law historic measures putting their state minimum wages on a path to $15 per hour, with New York also enacting a new statewide paid family leave program and California expanding their paid sick days plan to cover more workers.
The LuntzGlobal poll of business executives is in no way an outlier. It is broadly aligned with results of polling conducted for the National Employment Law Project last year, which showed 75 percent of voters supporting a federal minimum wage increase to $12.50 by 2020, with 63 percent favoring a national $15 minimum wage. Among small business owners, a new poll shows 59 percent favor raising the minimum wage. And in New York this spring, the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce, the Northeast Organic Farmers Association of New York, the Long Island African American Chamber of Commerce, and other groups and individual companies — with memberships totaling more than 32,000 small businesses across the state — all endorsed New York’s new $15 minimum wage.
The truth is that, among American businesses, it is only a relative handful of very wealthy and powerful companies (think Walmart) — ones with more than sufficient resources to be able to significantly raise pay for their lowest-paid workers — who prefer to funnel hundreds of millions, even billions of dollars into Chamber of Commerce and other industry groups’ lobbying and election efforts designed to beat back raising the minimum wage and keep wages as low as possible.
But now we know that they do not actually reflect the views of the clear majority of business owners and leaders. Despite the Chamber of Commerce’s attempts to disguise it, the emperor has no clothes.