How To Raise the Minimum Wage

From a recent article in Public CEO

By Jim Ross and Jennifer Webber.

With many local economies still recovering from the worse recession since the Great Depression, raising the minimum wage must be part of any economic recovery agenda. But even with strong support from voters and the general public, passing an increase in the minimum wage is not inevitable. While we saw voters in Oakland and San Francisco pass local measures this month, voters in Eureka did not do the same.

As the consultants to the Oakland initiative, these are some lessons we learned working to raise the minimum wage in Oakland.

Build a coalition

Only by bringing together individuals and organizations can anything be accomplished. But in building your coalition, keep it focused to strong supporters of raising the minimum wage. This will be the group that will provide the resources in time, people and money to your effort.

Create your proposal and build your case

Before talking to voters, the media or policymakers, create and solidify your proposal and build the case about why it works. Prepare responses to the expected and typical arguments like “too much too fast”or that a certain group of workers should not get the increased wage.

Also at this stage, decide how you will move forward. Is your group going to take a legislative approach or go directly to voters. This will strongly determine your strategy.

Grow your coalition

Bring in other allied groups to your coalition, but do not trade policy options for support. At this point you want to find supporters but not give up components of your proposal in exchange for that support.

Launch your effort

With a well researched proposal, strong coalition and a clear plan for qualifying or passing your measure, you are ready to launch your effort.

The most compelling arguments will center on fairness. Messages like:

  • It is not fair that people work full time but can’t support their families.
  • It is not fair that taxpayers must subsidize employers that pay substandard wages.

Naturally, low-wage workers who can talk about their lives and experiences are your strongest messengers. Recruiting and training these workers should be part of your coalition-building program.

Start strong

Your coalition’s first public event will define the strength of your effort and will impact both the approach of your opponents and how your effort looks going forward. Make sure your first event is organized, well attended and covered by the media. This will shape the rest of your campaign.

Don’t negotiate against yourself

Opponents of raising the minimum wage will try to get your to change your proposal and agree to a “compromise” when you launch your effort. Your coalition will need to decide if you should accept a compromise, but don’t negotiate against yourself. Let your opponents determine a counter proposal and then either accept it or negotiate. Don’t start the conversation with your coalition offering a compromise to your own plan.

Keep growing

Your strong start will give you an opportunity to keep growing.

Don’t give up on support from business

Many businesses will support your effort, you just need to ask, and now is the time. The goal is to find a few key business supporters and promote them. We found opponents to raising the minimum wage will hide behind industry groups, but that local business owners are much stronger messengers.

This is a moral issue

Since fairness is such an important component, this is a moral issue and you should include religious organizations in your outreach.

Keep the politicians out. In this cynical age, politicians are not seen as selfless individuals working to solve problems. Tying your effort too closely to a politician will open it up to attacks. Keep your effort focused on the fairness of raising the minimum wage, not on a politician.

If the minimum wage can pass in Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota, there is no reason why you cannot raise the minimum wage in your community.

Jim Ross and Jennifer Webber are political consultants who ran the Yes on Measure FF campaign that raised the local minimum wage in Oakland to $12.25 per hour. Measure FF passed with 81% support.  

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