Wage Engage Whets App-etite $15 an Hour Battle

By Rita Pyrillis

Sep. 26, 2016

As the push to increase the minimum wage to $15 gains traction across the country with protests and strikes among fast-food workers, small-business owners unleashed a weapon of their own recently with an app that allows them to lobby against such efforts with a swipe on their smartphone.

The new app, called Wage Engage, alerts business owners whenever a new minimum wage bill is introduced in their area and allows them to send a letter of protest to their local legislators.

AdobeStock_63140955_300x480“If you’re a small-business owner you may not have a government affairs shop to keep you up to date,” said Michael Saltsman, research director at the Washington-based Employment Policies Institute, which developed the app that currently is only available for iPhones. “At any time there are minimum-wage bills coming up that you’d like to talk to your legislator about but you’re too busy selling books or burgers to do that.”

The move is also an effort by EPI, a nonprofit research group funded in part by small-business owners, to step up its game “in a more aggressive minimum wage environment,” according to Saltsman.

“We were seeing an increasing number of state and local minimum wage fights and saw that unions were really well organized on the ground because they had the time to do it,” he said. “It was asymmetrical warfare. We realized that we could use mobile phones to get this done.”

The national campaign to raise the minimum wage — Fight for $15 — was launched about four years ago by fast-food workers. So far, 29 states have passed laws to increase hourly wages above the federal minimum of $7.29, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. A number of cities including San Francisco, New York and Chicago have voted to increase the minimum wage incrementally over the next few years — some topping off at $15 an hour and others proposing a more modest amount, according to the National Employment Law Project in New York. The Fight for $15 coalition launched a major strike in April with thousands of workers across the country walking out of their jobs.

Saltsman said that the voices of small-business owners are not being heard and he hopes that the app will draw attention to their concerns.

He said that more than 100 messages have been sent so far and that traffic will likely pick up as state legislatures begin introducing bills in the fall. Wage Engage was launched in the iTunes store September of this year.


Rita Pyrillis is a writer based in the Chicago area.

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