It has been nearly 80 years since the federal minimum wage was first established. During the intervening decades, the minimum wage has been increased 22 times. Often when legislators sought to bring the minimum wage in line with the rising cost of living, they faced a familiar opponent: The U.S. Chamber.
Throughout its history, the Chamber has opposed increasing the federal minimum wage, arguing that a raise would lead to higher inflation and unemployment and would specifically damage small businesses. The Chamber’s fears regarding the impact of a federal minimum wage increase on small businesses and their employees have been debunked. Still, the Chamber continues to attack proposals to provide low-income workers with a living wage. The Chamber’s enduring opposition to paying workers just compensation reveals the group’s clear prioritization of corporate and management interests at the expense of employees.
The Chamber’s opposition to increasing the minimum wage from its current low level is shortsighted, even from a business perspective. Iconic American businessman Henry Ford understood the importance of paying good wages. And more recently, even companies not known for their generosity are starting to realize that paying higher wages can improve the bottom line. By paying employees more, business owners understand that they can attract and retain more highly-motivated, productive employees. They also understand that in an economy where consumer spending accounts for almost 70 percent of economic output, paying employees a living wage allows them to consume more, thereby resulting in increased sales and stronger economic growth.
With the Trump administration taking its cues from the Chamber, the group has been able to even more aggressively pursue its anti-worker agenda. Much of its energy has been focused on blocking the implementation of the overtime rule, issued in 2016 by the Obama administration. The overtime rule substantially increased the salary threshold for overtime pay. Under the new rule, an additional 4.2 million people would be guaranteed time and a half pay for any additional hours they worked beyond 40 hours in a given week. The Chamber sued the Department of Labor (DOL) arguing that the agency did not have the authority to issue the rule. Once Trump took office, the Chamber lobbied DOL to abandon the increased salary threshold. The Trump administration has now indicated that it will not support the rule and as a result, the Chamber is likely to prevail in its efforts to prevent hard working Americans from earning more.
The Chamber’s war against overtime pay does not stop there. It currently supports the Working Families Flexibility Act, a bill which would enable employers to avoid providing overtime pay by offering comp time instead.