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July 18 2016

Cleveland’s Minimum Wage Hike Shut Down… for Now

Patrice L. Onwuka

The nation’s eyes are on the city of the 2016 NBA champion Cavaliers. Not for basketball, but for politics as the 2016 Republican National Convention kicks off today. Celebrities, politicos, protesters, and media are turning an eye on the city that has been popular of late thanks to a national championship and a big NBA benefactor, LeBron James.

There’s trouble brewing in Cleveland that is flying under the radar though. It has nothing to do with athletics, but everything to do with politics – local politics. It’s the minimum wage battle.

Last week, a proposal to hike Cleveland’s minimum wage to $15 an hour was rejected by some members of the City Council. It would create a big disparity between the $8.10 lowest wage across the state and Cleveland. The Workforce and Community Benefits Committee and Finance Committee recommended that the entire 17-member council vote to not approve the measure.

On one side are black pastors and Rise Up Cleveland, a front group for the Service Employees International Union, pushing for the $15 minimum wage hike. On the other are most city council members who say a city-wide hike is not the answer and may not be legal. At issue is whether Cleveland can set its own minimum wage. Legal experts and Ohio’s Attorney General suggest it can’t.

Businesses such as owners of grocery stores, restaurants, and construction companies also think the impacts of a higher wage would shut them down.

An amendment was introduced to phase in a $15 minimum wage over five years, and that fell flat too, for the same reasons, according to Cleveland news sources:

But Council President Kevin Kelley reiterated his firmly held position that a proposal seeking to raise the minimum wage in Cleveland alone would hurt employers and employees alike, prompting layoffs or an exodus of businesses from the city.

"(The amendment) fails to deal with the fatal flaw of this petition, which is the Cleveland-only effect," Kelley said. "I ask my colleagues to think about the business owners who have come before us and ask what that would do to their businesses and investment in the city. ... And we're not talking about CEOs sitting in their Wall Street office, looking at workers as widgets. We're talking small business owners, who see their employees as family."

After a couple of months of presentations and meetings from proponents and opponents, the entire city council will decide whether to take up the recommendation from colleagues and shut down the proposal. If they do, it’s not a dead issue. The petitioners can also put the original language on the ballot for Cleveland voters to decide and probably will, if they can come up with the signatures necessary:

Questions arose last month over whether Raise Up Cleveland had turned in its initial pile of signatures in time to guarantee a shot at the November ballot. If council runs out the clock and decides not to pass the ordinance as written, the initiative would miss the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections' Aug. 10 deadline to make the ballot for the general election.

But the charter offers another remedy for the petitioners, too: Collecting an additional 5,000 signatures, as the petitioners say they have done, could force a special election.

This contentious issue highlights the challenges that municipalities and states are grappling with over minimum wage hikes.

Workers and community leaders, who see $15 an hour as a ticket to upward mobility, allow immediate gain to blind them from the long-term loss of jobs and possible extinction of many local businesses and restaurants which they patronize. What good is a $15 minimum wage when you’re in an unemployment line?

Proponents of minimum wage hikes claim that we’re exaggerating the loss of jobs that occurs, but the race for automation of predictable, repetitive, low-skill tasks often done by the lowest-wage workers is an inevitability. Studies point to manufacturing, food service and retail as the most susceptible industries for automation. Manufacturing is leading the economy in Cleveland for example.

Even if their hearts are in the right place in wanting to boost wages for poor workers, clear heads must prevail.

IIndependent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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