Since the Fight for $15 movement began, the minimum wage has increased in some cities and states throughout the country, but not everyone is on the path to a $15 hourly wage. While many people may rejoice in the change, there are just as many people who disagree.
Mid-South native Ernie Mellor has built up his North Memphis business Hog Wild Real Memphis BBQ and a Moveable Feast Catering from scratch.
“We’ve grown every year for 20 years,” said Mellor. In that time, Mellor said their team of 20 full time workers and a few dozen part timers has grown close.
“We are a very close knit family and we have people from all walks of life here. Some make more than others, but we work as a family,” said Mellor.
As the Fight for $15 movement has gained steam across the country, rallies pushing for a $15 minimum wage have become a regular sight around Memphis. Mellor has thought about what an increase would mean for his team.
“If the federal government went from $7.25 to $15 an hour, yeah I’d be real scared. I’d be trying to figure it out real fast,” said Mellor.
He said doubling the minimum wage on top of rising food costs could drive him out of business.
“What’s the guy that’s making $15? Where are you going to take him? Take him to $30? You know the math just doesn’t play out,” said Mellor.
The business owner said the lowest he pays workers is $8.50. He can’t afford to offer medical benefits, but offers workers a free meal each day, tries to be flexible with time off, and cultivates a welcoming environment.
“This is a slow month for us and I got way too many people in my kitchen right now. So I’m stimulating the economy because otherwise if they’re not here today on a slow day, they may not be back here on a really busy day when I need them,” said Mellor.
“I love it. It’s a great job. You get to be very creative, you challenge yourself physically and mentally,” said John Caldwell, a chef who has worked for Mellor for 5 years.
“I would have to do my labor plus labor of others because frankly we’d have to let people go,” said Caldwell, who explained he does not agree with what he calls “artificially meddling” with wages.
“Y’all came and we were having a meal, that’s a nice benefit. Somebody didn’t have to go out for breakfast or lunch today that could be worth $7 or $8 or $9, $10. If you increase the wage to $15 an hour for everybody in the industry that $10 lunch will be a $25 lunch,” said Caldwell.
Mellor said he understands the struggle, but says pay should reflect a worker’s skill set, adding in his industry, hard workers don’t stay at minimum wage for long.
“I think there’s probably middle ground somewhere, but it’s not a hundred percent rate increase,” said Mellor.
In the Mid-South, minimum wage is $7.25 in Tennessee and Mississippi. Arkansas began its new minimum wage at $8.50 this year.