Debate in D.C., Not at Disneyland
by Glenn Spencer
Senior Vice President, Employment Policy Division
U.S. Chamber of Commerce
A batch of Democratic lawmakers from Washington, D.C. recently weighed in on an economic issue most prominently raised by the Fight for $15 campaign over the past several years—specifically, higher wages. On this occasion, however, the demand was not that government raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, but that an individual employer do so — and then go higher still. Prominent among the petitioners were Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who may have motives that go beyond what is, essentially, a local contract negotiation of the type that routinely happens all around the country.
The saga takes place at what is affectionately known as the “Happiest Place on Earth,” Disneyland. Union workers at the Anaheim, CA amusement park are in the midst of negotiating a new contract, and it is this process in which the elected officials from our Nation’s capital have sought to intervene.
Specifically, Sen. Sanders and company are demanding that Disney pay a minimum wage of $15 an hour. In a letter to the company, the lawmakers recounted anecdotes about employees trying to make ends meet in a state where high taxes and burdensome regulation make the cost of living higher than in other parts of the country. What makes the letter a bit odd is that Disney has already agreed to raise wage rates to $15. Not only that, but they have offered to do so by 2020 — faster than is required by the state of California, which some may recall has required employers statewide to raise minimum wages to $15 an hour by 2022.
So what gives? Perhaps it’s cynical, but one could be forgiven for thinking this is a case of politicians seeking to attach their names to headlines involving an entity with universal name recognition.
For its part, Disney is offering $15 an hour willingly. It is unlikely that all California employers can afford to do so, and indeed, economic research from Seattle, WA, which also has imposed a $15 minimum wage, shows that the results of such a dramatic increase may not be as beneficial as proponents claim. In fact, the research demonstrated that Seattle’s phased-in increase (which reached $13 an hour in 2016) had already caused low-wage workers’ incomes to fall by $125 a month.
There is a legitimate debate to be had about the minimum wage. But it’s probably best for elected officials to take a look at the facts and have that debate in Washington, D.C. instead of grandstanding at Space Mountain.