Opinion: Baseless attacks on the restaurant industry

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The Restaurant Association of Maryland responds to Progressive Maryland’s commentary attacking its polling and credibility.

By Melvin Thompson

Restaurant Association of Maryland

In an op-ed published by MarylandReporter.com, Larry Stafford, executive director of Progressive Maryland, accuses my organization of asking “fake questions” in the recent Gonzales Poll about a minimum wage increase, and asserts that we employ “deceptive practices” that “should cause policymakers to question” our motives and facts.

Mr. Stafford and I can disagree on the minimum wage issue all day long. I’m comfortable with that. But when he implies that the Restaurant Association of Maryland (RAM) is deceptive with regard to the arguments we make to policymakers, I have to draw the line. His attack is baseless, unwarranted and shows he has little understanding of business economics.

The reason the restaurant industry is so concerned about this issue, and was a big part of opposition at the public hearings, is because mandates that increase the cost of labor affect our industry disproportionately.

As we shared with legislators, our industry requires four times more labor per $1 million in sales than the average of most other Maryland industry sectors (per U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data).

Our fears about the REAL consequences of substantial minimum wage hikes are validated by the countless news stories reporting the impact on restaurant businesses and the people we employ.

The Gonzales Poll is well-respected, and provided an opportunity to get answers to REAL questions about REAL consequences that affect REAL people. [Here is Maryland Reporter’s story, including the full results of the poll.]

Real questions and real consequences on real people

While 43% of Gonzales Poll respondents “strongly favor” a law requiring employers to pay a $15 minimum wage, just 28% “strongly favor” it if it resulted in significantly higher prices for things like eating out, retail goods and services.

Only 12% of Gonzales Poll respondents “strongly favor” a $15 minimum wage if it resulted in a loss of jobs for low-skill workers, while 70% would “oppose” it if low-skilled jobs were lost (55% “strongly oppose” and 15% “somewhat oppose”), according to the poll.

But let’s face it, what likely surprised Mr. Stafford most is the fact that, of the 79% of Maryland Democrats who favor the idea of a law requiring Maryland employers to pay a $15 minimum wage, support among Democrats plunges to just 23% when asked about a $15 minimum wage if a consequence was a loss of jobs for low-skill workers, such as those in the fast-food industry.

Mr. Stafford conveniently dismisses these particular poll questions because they cause people to really think.

Recent articles

According to a Jan. 29 article from the New York Post, “NYC’s minimum wage increase will give you takeout sticker shock.” This story (like others) validates our poll question about price increases as a result of substantial minimum wage hikes.

According to a Jan. 16 article from U.S. News & World Report, “New York Restaurants Struggle to Adapt to Higher Wages.” This story (like others) validates our poll question about job losses as a result of substantial minimum wage hikes.

According to a March 6 article from The Guardian, “Whole Foods cuts workers’ hours after Amazon introduces minimum wage.” This story validates our testimony about businesses reducing work hours to help offset higher minimum wage costs.

There are many more news stories out there about the ramifications of artificially high minimum wages that Mr. Stafford would like to ignore. For more news stories, facts and testimonials about the REAL consequences of substantial minimum wage hikes in jurisdictions nationwide, please see www.FacesOf15.com.

For the record

Regarding the tip credit, we support preserving Maryland’s current tip wage because tipped employees are guaranteed by law to make at least the full applicable minimum wage. Tipped employees from casual restaurants also testified in support of preserving Maryland’s current tip credit at the public hearings.

We also support more transparency about the REAL hourly pay rate of tipped employees. This is why we requested an amendment in the Senate (which the Finance Committee passed by unanimous voice vote) to require restaurant employers to show the effective hourly pay rate on tipped employee pay stubs. This will allow tipped employees to easily confirm that they are earning at least minimum wage per hour, and makes it clear when employers are required by law to make up any shortfalls.

And for the record, the majority of our members are independently-owned restaurants, not “industry giants” as Mr. Stafford incorrectly asserted. This fact was reflected by the many local restaurant witnesses who testified at the public hearings.

Local businesses are concerned about the impact such a substantial minimum wage increase will have on their businesses and the people they employ.

Perhaps Mr. Stafford should do his homework before publicly accusing my organization of asking “fake questions,” alleging that there is “nothing to support RAM’s claims” about job loss, and suggesting that we are “misstating the facts of raising the minimum wage.”

This is important because, as he said, legislators should know the facts.

Melvin R. Thompson is the senior vice president of the Restaurant Association of Maryland