As Gov. Jerry Brown signed California’s new $15 minimum wage bill on Monday, state business advocates were stuck reflecting on whether anything could have been done to stop it.
Organized labor prevailed against business because unions recognized that political fights are not won inside the state Capitol — they are won at the grassroots level, said Josh Wood, CEO of Region Business, a local advocacy firm.
To start winning these fights, business groups need anticipate threats before they gain momentum and move aggressively to influence public opinion through pro-business mailers, phone calls and television advertisements, Wood said.
“There was never an effort to sway the public,” Wood said of this year’s minimum wage fight. “When did you see commercials in people’s homes about how a $15 minimum wage would shut down a diner, or cost a job, or raise the cost of milk?”
Business advocates said they would like to take a more proactive approach in defining the political message, but it’s a question of resources when so many threats are approaching at the state level, said Rob Lapsley, chief executive of the California Business Roundtable, a group that represents major employers operating in the state.
“We want to be more active locally. That’s always been in the game plan,” Lapsley said. “If I had my way, I would launch a $50 million commercial (campaign) on the challenges of starting and growing a business. But we’re contending with so many other threats that that’s not the largest priority at the moment.”
Businesses lost this fight years ago by failing to negotiate with unions in cities across the state, said Democratic strategist Steve Maviglio. The Fight for $15 movement swept into California in 2014 and fanned out to a handful of cities. Unlike in many of those cities, when the debate came to Sacramento City Hall last year, restaurateurs and retailers compromised with unions on a $12.50 minimum wage with multiple exemptions.
“In most places, (businesses) were giving them the stiff arm instead of negotiating,” Maviglio said.
Not true, said Peter Tateishi, CEO of the Sacramento Metro Chamber. Business groups regularly negotiate — and compromise — with unions on various issues. But the public doesn’t always hear about it, he said.
“I don’t buy the argument that we haven’t come to the table,” Tateishi said. “The idea that we are the constant villain is an unfair assessment.”