Phil Raptis, co-owner of the Yankee Kitchen, attributes the restaurant’s 28-year legacy to good employees, many of whom have worked there for more than a decade.
“They have to raise a family and pay bills; why wouldn’t I pay them more than minimum wage?” Raptis said. “I wouldn’t be able to keep them here if not. It would be to somebody else’s benefit because my workers would go away to get more money.”
Raptis, along with his son, Eli Raptis, invited U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Avon, to the Market Street eatery Monday, as the senator kicked off a two-week congressional recess by drumming up support for the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013.
The bill, which Brown is co-sponsoring along with a bevy of other Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate, was introduced earlier this month. It seeks to raise the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 to $10.10 by providing for automatic annual adjustments based on changes in the cost of living over the next three years.
If passed, the act also would gradually raise wages for tipped workers to 70 percent of the minimum wage.
“If you raise minimum wage, it will mean more employment because there will be more money spent in the community,” Brown told a room of reporters and Yankee Kitchen customers Monday. “It means workers are taking that money — they’re not investing it — they’re spending it on school clothes, coming out and eating at places like the Yankee Kitchen; they’re spending on making and generating economic activity.”
Brown said there is no real evidence that raising the federal wage floor discourages hiring. According to his estimate, a bump in the minimum wage would add $30 billion to U.S. gross domestic product.
Brown added that the 1.3 million Ohioans working for minimum wage would stand to benefit from the legislation.
But Ohio’s minimum wage already is above the federal level, at $7.85 an hour. It is linked to inflation under a state constitutional amendment that voters approved in 2006, which calls for annual increases — one reason the bill’s critics here say an increase would be burdensome for the state’s employers.
“We’re concerned about anything that’s going to make it more challenging for people to hire individuals,” said Greg Lawson, a policy analyst at the Buckeye Institute, a conservative think tank. “An increase in the minimum wage would be problematic with health care costs increasing from the Affordable Care Act. If those things come together, it would not be good for employers.”
An estimated 3.6 million people were paid hourly rates at or below the federal minimum in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The federal minimum wage works out to about $15,000 annually.
Brown acknowledged Monday that passing the legislation would be a difficult task given the level of brinkmanship and partisan wrangling playing out in Washington.
The last time Congress approved an increase in the minimum wage was in 2007.
“It’s a tough sell; you’ve got a lot of special-interest groups — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, oil companies, drug companies and the banks — saying they don’t want to do it,” Brown said. “We were able to do it with a Republican president in 2007, and I think we can do it with a Republican House in 2013.”