New Poll Offers No Daylight to Restaurateurs Looking to Keep Minimum Wage Down

The labor movement has repeatedly done battle on the minimum wage and other fundamental labor rights with the big, powerful NRA.

Not that NRA. It's the National Restaurant Association that stands as a prime opponent of increasing the federal minimum wage from the deep-poverty level of $7.25 to a living wage. Or of raising employers' out-of-pocket minimum for tipped employees from $2.13 an hour. The National Restaurant Association even tried - and failed, because even Congress agreed in bipartisan fashion that the idea reeked - to rig the tipping rule so restaurateurs could redistribute or just pocket a server's tips. 

So it is with a high degree of delight that I pass along a story by The Intercept on a leaked National Restaurant Association poll that underlines what we already know. Raising the minimum wage is wildly popular. Customers are willing to pay more to eat out if it means workers will be paid fairly. And every argument the National Restaurant Association makes to counter the popularity of raising the minimum wage falls flat:

One of the nation's most powerful anti-minimum wage lobbying groups tapped a longtime Republican pollster to survey the public about a range of issues impacting the industry.

A significant chunk of the survey focused on attitudes toward the minimum wage - and many members of the powerful lobby group aren't going to like the results.

The poll - which was presented on a slide deck obtained by The Intercept and Documented - found that seven in 10 Americans want to see the minimum wage raised even if it means that they'd have to pay more for meals. It also found that the industry's various talking points against raising the wage are mostly falling flat with the general public.

Conducted by GOP pollster Frank Luntz's firm LuntzGlobal on behalf of the other NRA - the National Restaurant Association - the poll found that 71 percent of people surveyed support raising the minimum wage to at least $10 an hour.

The NRA, which did not respond to a request for comment, is the trade association for the massive restaurant industry. It has estimated that restaurant sales reached $799 billion in 2017, up 4.3 percent over 2016, and boasts eight years of consecutive growth in revenue for U.S. restaurants.

"The restaurant industry now in the United States is larger than 90 percent of the world economies," said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the NRA's Research and Knowledge group.

The NRA paid its CEO, Dawn Sweeney, more than $3.8 million in total compensation, including a bonus of $1.7 million. If her total compensation were computed hourly, it would amount to $1,867.88 per hour (as of four years ago), which would take a minimum-wage worker 247 hours, or six weeks of full-time work, to earn.

The NRA has long claimed that increasing the government wage floor would "ratchet up restaurants' labor costs and result in thousands of jobs lost," but these results show that the NRA's rhetoric on the minimum wage is failing to move the American public. Indeed, as Democrats embrace a $15 per hour minimum wage ahead of the 2020 presidential campaign, the NRA is moving in the opposite direction.

The leaked NRA poll is the first instance of a known national poll commissioned by the industry itself that shows how widely popular raising the minimum wage is and how small the opposition is, even though other published national surveys have shown a similar level of public support.

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