SEIU vs. Cleveland Grocery Stores

With a revitalized downtown and a commitment to reducing pollution and crime, Cleveland will be hosting the Republican National Convention in July and plans to become a destination city. All of this could come crashing down, however, with the passage of a $15 minimum wage.

The Service Employees union has selected Cleveland as its next target for $15, but has run into opposition from unexpected quarters: The city’s Democratic Mayor, Democratic Council President, and some of its most powerful union leaders have all come out against the proposal. They’re concerned that labor’s fight for a Cleveland-specific $15 wage, if successful, would drive small businesses out of existence and take the heart out of the city’s revival.

Recent testimony before the City Council suggests that nearly doubling the state minimum wage would have a uniquely harmful impact on the city’s grocery stores—in particular, those stores that serve low-income neighborhoods. Joel Ratner, president and CEO of the community development nonprofit agency Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, explained:

[Ratner] said his organization has played a role in the development of nearly every grocery store in the city, and he knows of two grocery chains that continue to operate some stores at a financial loss because they are committed to meeting the needs of the neighborhoods.

“If this were to pass, there would be a wholesale closing of grocery stores in Cleveland,” Ratner said. “In fact, we think most grocery stores in the city would close, because their margins are already so narrow. … And I would expect that it would create a huge spike in hunger and demand on emergency food systems.”

One of those grocery chains operating locations at a loss appears to be Dave’s Markets, a local favorite that has made an investment in low-income neighborhoods in the city.

At a Cleveland City Council committee meeting Thursday morning, the Saltzmans of Dave’s Markets (Steve, Dan and their papa, Burt) testified that the proposed city minimum wage increase, to $15 from the state’s current $8.10, would cripple their grocery store business. … [A] precipitous wage increase in the city of Cleveland alone might necessitate closing a location or two, Steve Saltzman said.

The Plain Dealer’s retired editorial director Brent Larkin succinctly characterized the SEIU and its effort to impose $15 on Cleveland: “[The SEIU’s] great weakness is it doesn’t give a damn about collateral damage. In this case, the collateral damage would be right here.”