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Businesses Support Raising The Minimum Wage. Why Doesn't The Business Lobby?

A Republican pollster coached business groups on how to maintain their opposition to higher minimum wages, despite overwhelming support for an increase among business leaders.

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Raising the minimum wage. More paid sick leave and family leave. More stable scheduling for workers. When a major Republican-friendly polling shop surveyed CEOs across the country about these typically left-leaning policies, one thing was made clear: they overwhelmingly support them.

So when it came to presenting the results to the Council of State Chambers of Commerce, which commissioned the research, the pollsters had a challenge on their hands — how to reconcile the widespread opposition to these policies by many business lobby groups with their popularity among the people actually running businesses.

In a recorded webinar, David Merritt, the managing director of polling firm LuntzGlobal, described the "empathy" CEOs feel for workers along with their support for labor-friendly policies. "If you ask about them in isolation, of course we want to take care of people who are caring for a loved one. Of course we want to give folks more benefits or more leave or more income."

In the presentation, obtained by liberal advocacy group the Center for Media and Democracy, Merritt told the business lobbyists that executives expressed widespread support for a number of policies that are vehemently opposed by conservative politicians.

Based on their survey of 1,000 executives, LuntzGlobal found 80% supported raising their state minimum wage, 82% supported increasing paid parental leave requirements and 73% supported increasing paid sick leave. The Washington Post first reported details of the presentation.

"If you’re fighting against a minimum wage increase, you’re fighting an uphill battle," Merritt said in the presentation. "Because most Americans, even most Republicans, support raising a minimum wage."

He went on to coach participants on how to oppose those policies anyhow.

"A lot of you guys have minimum wage battles at the state level. If you are fighting those fights, the best way to fight it is not to talk about the minimum wage," he said. "If you can, turn it into a federal issue and talk about the Earned Income Tax Credit."

Joe Crosby, Director of the Council of State Chambers, which commissioned the research, said in a statement that the survey was intended "to benchmark trends on current political issues" and "it primarily covered mid-sized and larger companies, not the smaller businesses that are most affected by wage and leave mandates."

LuntzGlobal, founded by prominent Republican pollster and consultant Frank Luntz, was unable to comment, per the terms of its contract wit the Council of State Chambers, Crosby said.

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"We have known for years"

Advocates for these worker-friendly policies said the findings are proof their cause has many allies in the business community — even if those allies aren't often the most outspoken voices representing business interests in Washington and state houses.

“We have known for years what this research confirms: that an overwhelming share of business leaders support paid sick days, paid leave and other family friendly policies," said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, a group that advocates for paid leave.

At one point in the call, Merritt held up language from the group Ness belongs to (below) as polling higher among executives than any other.

“I wouldn’t have changed anything about this statement," Merritt said in the presentation. "This was the clear winner — from the National Partnership for Women and Families... Perfect, perfect language."

Business lobby groups like the various state-level chambers of commerce are "not currently representing the views of their members — and doing that at the expense of single moms and hard-working parents," said Elianne Farhat, who runs the Fair Workweek Initiative, a campaign of the Center For Popular Democracy, a liberal advocacy group. "In every place fair workweek laws are moving, the chambers of commerce have been the loudest voices of opposition."

But Crosby, the Director of the Council of State Chambers, said the real question at issue is whether labor regulations should be forced onto all businesses by law, not whether businesses support the goal of better pay and working conditions. "Of course business owners support raising wages and benefits for their employees; those are goals they work for every day," he wrote in an email to BuzzFeed News. "But one-size-fits-all government mandates simply don’t work."

A spokesperson for the National Restaurant Association, the industry's largest trade group and one of the loudest voices opposing minimum wake hikes, said its members are more sensitive to labor costs than those in other industries. "The Council of State Chambers represents a diverse range of businesses, including tech and manufacturing companies, that could adapt to increased labor costs more easily" than restaurant and fast food owners, said NRA spokesperson Christin Fernandez.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the federal body representing the country's business community, echoed concerns that pro-labor policies would negatively affect employers.

"The U.S. Chamber, based on input from our members, continues to believe that imposing higher labor costs on employers, especially small businesses, will force them to cut back elsewhere, and will ultimately price low and un-skilled workers out of entry level job opportunities," said Randy Johnson, senior vice president of Labor, Immigration, and Employee Benefits for the Chamber, in a statement.

Asked about the chamber's position on paid family and sick leave, as well as predictive scheduling, all of which polled well in the survey, spokeswoman Blair Holmes wrote that the Chamber is "careful to be responsive and in synch" with the business community it represents.

"The only point we will make is to say we have not lobbied on these issues in any of the states," she said, adding that the federal group "is not in a position to comment on the positions these state chambers may have taken" with respect to raising the minimum wage or paid leave and "will not comment on state or local versions of predictive scheduling legislation."

On its website, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce lists among its 2016 priorities: "Oppose efforts to increase the minimum wage and to index the minimum wage to inflation," and "Oppose attempts to make FMLA [Family and Medical Leave Act] leave paid or to mandate paid sick leave."

Cora Lewis is a business reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Lewis reports on labor.

Contact Cora Lewis at cora.lewis@buzzfeed.com.

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