There has been a lot of talk in this year of a lot of talking about the $15 per hour minimum wage. Leading the way are the usual suspects, New York State, California, and Washington state. Other jurisdictions have legislative proposals for a phase-in to $15 per hour, including the federal government, Oregon, Missouri, and the city of Minneapolis among others. Employer groups in industries such as banks, tech companies, and healthcare adopted this as policy in 2015 as well. The reaction has been all across the map, as it is every time this subject comes up. It ranges from “the government has no business affecting wages in the marketplace” to “the increase should be immediate and across-the-board.”
The ACH&R news recently published an article about the subject as it applies to the HVAC industry. As expected, you got a similar range of views as those described above. In the article, (Debating the Impact of a Minimum Wage Increase by Nicole Krawcke, June 20, 2016) one contractor said “I don’t see how this can be a good thing. The minimum wage legislation will put pressure on the HVAC industry, as it is a tough business for an entry-level worker.” Another contractor said the $15 minimum wage legislation will not have a significant impact on his business because many of his employees wages are already at or above the proposed rate hike. “When hiring more qualified people, they’re already commanding a higher wage, so many of our team members are well beyond this rate or right in line with it.”
The contractor making the latter point also outlined an issue that no one is talking about. “One of the negatives is we now have less of a company wage letter to climb in a new norm of complacency can set in. The new minimum wage raise is a salary or wage reduction to everyone else in the wage pool and will eventually become a negative to business. To maintain or retain the top performers, they will also expect that relative increase.”
So here’s the thing. For the past 40 years those of us who have been in the industry that long have heard about the worker shortage in the industry, and how it’s only going to get worse over time. A recent article in a trade pub said the HVACR industry will need 100,000+ new technicians and installers in the next 7 years just to keep up with demand. A study by the HVACR Workforce Development Foundation indicated the number of mechanic and installer jobs will increase by 21% through 2022, which is nearly twice the growth of employment in the economy overall. The bottom line is that we need to attract new blood into our industry, and we need to make it attractive vis-à-vis other career opportunities. Are we competing with bank teller employees, fast food workers, retail clerks or receptionists for our installers and service technicians? No! So why in the world are we arguing about a $15 per hour minimum wage in our industry?
One contractor put it best. “Very few, if any, HVAC workers should be working anywhere close to that minimum wage. We are going to have to convince the dwindling supply of capable workers that HVAC is where they belong, not in one of the other industries desperate for help. If you want someone who actually knows something about HVAC and is also competent, $15 an hour is not going to cut it.” Nuff said!