Minimum wage, overtime pay, sick leave, scheduling, off-the-clock work and other labor issues used to be the province of the federal government, with adjustments and embellishments coming
What’s Driving Local Effort
from the state. That was before intensifying
partisan politics in Washington and in state
capitals froze action on just about anything. These
days, “all are hot topics,” says John Monroe, a labor
lawyer in Atlanta. “If you (convenience stores) are
not working together, you are missing something.
There is power in numbers.”
In California, the Service Employees International
Union’s (SEIU) state council wants to raise the
minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020 and require
six paid sick days a year. The group’s campaign
illustrates why the wage-rate hike has become a
local issue: After the legislature declined to approve
the wage increase, SEIU did what many groups have
done in California and other states in recent years—
it bypassed the legislature and took its fight directly
to the people. Voters will now decide on the $15 per
hour wage increase in November.
Several things are driving more localized
action. Gridlock in Washington and many
state capitals is pushing labor issues
to the community level. An improving
economy and a tightening labor
market are raising expectations
for pay raises among employees.
Perhaps most importantly, unions
and local politicians have realized
that they can influence wages,
sick leave and related employment
issues locally much more than they
can nationally or in state capitals.
In Long Beach, California, for example,
Councilmember Rex Richardson has
been campaigning vigorously to raise
the minimum wage to $15 an hour in
that city, just south of Los Angeles.
He argues that while that pay level
might not be needed in smaller,
Long Beach and the Los Angeles metropolitan area,
where living costs are higher. The wage boost “will
put people on a path out of poverty,” Richardson
says. “I personally believe it is the right thing to do.”
However, minimum wage is not the only labor
issue in the spotlight these days. Local politicians,
unions and some special-interest groups are
pushing for advances on six labor fronts critical to
convenience store operators.
Paid Sick Leave
Proponents say granting sick leave not only is just
but it’s smart because it keeps sick people away from
the workplace where they can spread germs. Three
states and 16 cities have mandatory sick leave laws,
and the issue appears to be gaining momentum.
For employers with mandatory staffing levels, a
paid sick leave mandate would require them to pay
twice, once to the employee on leave and a second
time to the employee working the shift, essentially
doubling payroll. In addition, the ability to take an
hour or two as paid sick leave would be disruptive—
to the business, to fellow employees and to
customers—in labor-intensive service industries,
such as the convenience industry.
A paid sick leave mandate could increase payroll
and administrative costs, and be difficult to keep
track of paid time off that has been accumulated,
used and banked. Many smaller retailers lack the
resources to employ full-time HR staff, potentially
creating opportunities for lawsuits.
The Economic Policy Institute says that if the
federal minimum wage had kept pace with
inflation since 1968, it now would be $9.54 an hour,
or about 32% higher than the federal minimum.
A new report from the Economic Policy Institute
indicates that raising the federal minimum wage
to $12 by 2020 would lift wages for more than 35
million workers nationwide and generate about
$17 billion annually in savings to government
assistance programs. Local elected officials
like that arithmetic so expect to see increasing
pressure to raise the minimum wage.
Many experts say forcing a raise in the minimum
wage sets in motion forces to cover the increase.
Convenience store owners and managers need to
get involved in that debate too, experts say. “Are