Big Labor’s Bad Letter

Big Labor wasn’t going to let a fellow traveler disparage the $15 minimum wage without a response.

Earlier this month, liberal economist Alan Krueger wrote an op-ed in the New York Times arguing that “a $15-an-hour national minimum wage would put us in uncharted waters, and risk undesirable and unintended consequences.”  He is the latest in a string of high-profile, left-of-center economists, including Drs. Arin Dube, Katharine Abraham, Ronald Ehrenberg, and Harry Holzer, who have expressed skepticism of the national application of a $15 minimum wage advocated by the SEIU and labor-backed activist groups.

Hector Figueroa, president of powerful SEIU local 32BJ, responded this week with a letter to the editor disagreeing that the move is unprecedented. He cites the minimum wages of West Coast cities like Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles as well as foreign countries like Australia to make his point.

It’s true that cities like Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have passed $15 minimum wages to be reached in increments, but none of them have reached the $15 mark yet. (In Los Angeles, the law hasn’t even started phasing in.) And even at levels below $15 these cities are already feeling the pinch, with small businesses forced to close, lay off employees or reduce their hours as a direct result of the wage hikes.

Figueroa mentions that “one Seattle seafood restaurant chain [Ivar’s Salmon House] immediately went to $15 without any job loss, and customers didn’t mind the slight rise in menu prices.” He apparently considers the 21 percent price increase as reported by the Seattle Times “slight.” The customers may disagree.

He cites Australia as a nation that has a $15.58 minimum wage in US dollars. This figure, cribbed from Wikipedia, seems high: The minimum wage for those with regular employment is $12.53 in US currency. More importantly, Figueroa neglects to mention that there are significant carve outs for junior employees in the country’s minimum wage law. Not surprisingly, Dr. Greg Bamber of Melbourne’s Monash University reports that McDonalds locations in the country rely heavily on youth labor.

There’s no room for such nuance when Figueroa has an agenda to pursue. It’s just too bad the Times gave him the forum to do it.