Dig Baton Rouge

Fighting for 15

By Nick BeJeaux

The fight for a “livable wage” continues as local activists from Baton Rouge Organizing prepare to depart for the largest income inequality rally so far this year.

Across the country, several cities will hear the Fight for 15 rally on April 15, which will bring low-wage workers and their supporters together to fight for a $15 an hour wage. BRO is planning on sending as many people as they can to New Orleans for the rally, beginning their rally in front of BJ’s Brew House at 2 p.m. before departing for NOLA.

Shamaka Schumake, executive director of BRO, was approached by the New Orleans branch of Fight for 15 to start a chapter in BR and she jumped at the opportunity.

“Our first action is going to be going to this rally that is already established in New Orleans,” she said. “And then we’re going to start having them here in Baton Rouge.”

The Fight for 15 movement contends that economics is on their side and that raising the bottom line to $15 an hour would rebalance the economy and close the income gap between the super rich and the morbidly impoverished.

“If the minimum wage had stayed consistent with the costs of living standards and inflation and all the other variables that were used to create it in the first place, it would be around $15,” said Schumake. “It has been allowed to remain stagnant while higher income levels have risen. Also, it not just affecting the minimum wage, but also low and middle income levels as well. We’re not just talking about fast food or Walmart here — this issue affects the entire stratosphere of wages. And we’re not necessarily fighting for $15 an hour, because there are many wages between $7.25 and $15 that are livable.”

Support for raising the minimum wage usually falls along party lines, with many democrats supporting raises (claiming it will lead to economic growth) and many republicans blocking their efforts (claiming it will spike unemployment). During the 2014 Legislative Session, four bills aimed at establishing a state mandated minimum wage that exceeded the federal limit of $7.25 were filed — all by democrats. As the 2015 Session approaches, no bills to hike the minimum wage have been filed, but the issue has made its way into the gubernatorial race. Of the three serious contenders, Jay Dardenne (R), David Vitter (R) and John Bel Edwards (D), only Edwards has said that he would support a raise at the state level.

The National Conversation On Minimum Wage

Last year, Tim Worstall, a columnist for Forbes Magazine, calculated that a yearly salary of $31,200 ($15 an hour at 40 hours a week) would cost employers an additional $17,500 a year per employee. This factors in social security and Medicaid costs and the federal unemployment tax. However, Moo Cluck Moo, a burger joint in Detroit, Michigan – one of the poorest cities in the U.S. – doesn’t seem to be bothered by that extra expense.

In a Dec. 2014 interview with National Public Radio, Moo Cluck Moo founder Brian Parker revealed he’s not only making money but also turning a profit and expanding after raising wages from $12 an hour to $15 an hour. Parker said that his strategy is to invest in his workers and train them to be multi-tasking, jacks-of-all-trades.

“Because of our low turnover, and the fact that people are really into their jobs, $15 an hour wasn’t a big stretch,” Parker says.

However, in the same segment, economist Michael Strain with the American Enterprise Institute cautioned that what works for small chains with a specific product may not work for megacorps like McDonalds, which try to appeal to everyone. Strain said that if workers become too expensive for the McDonalds model, automation could become more frequent.

“Imagine if some machine gets invented that can operate the French fry machine at McDonald’s,” said Strain. “That’s one less worker needed at the fryer.”




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