Update 11:55 a.m.: A previous headline of this story implied Nick Hanauer is the CEO of Pacific Coast Feather Company. Hanauer is chairman of the company. We regret the error.
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One of the leading millionaires behind the push for a $15 minimum wage pays employees less than that in his own private business dealings.
Nick Hanauer, a leading member of the progressive dark money group Democracy Alliance, has been agitating to more than double the national minimum wage to $15 an hour. His family business, the Pacific Coast Feather Company, however, advertised wages far below that rate when it opened a North Carolina manufacturing plant with a taxpayer-funded incentive in 2014.
"Company sources say Pacific Coast Feather Co. will hire 110 workers, and pay will range from $7.50 an hour for unskilled, entry-level jobs to more than $11 an hour for higher-skilled jobs," the Gaston Gazette reported at the time of the opening. "Pacific Coast Feather Co. will participate in a state Commerce program that requires Gaston County to provide $25,000."
That news came a year after Hanauer, who serves as co-chairman of Pacific Coast Feather Co.’s board, penned "The Capitalist’s Case for a $15 Minimum Wage" for Bloomberg News. He made the case that it was both immoral and bad business to pay workers less than $15 an hour for entry level work—a campaign launched by the Service Employees International Union during President Obama’s first term.
"The extreme, and widening, wealth gap in our economy presents not just a moral challenge, but an economic one, too. In a capitalist system, rising inequality creates a death spiral of falling demand that ultimately takes everyone down," he wrote. "The most powerful and elegant antidote is sitting right before us: a spike in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour."
One North Carolina employee said that wages are informed by the state and federal minimum wage of $7.25, but referred the Washington Free Beacon to its Seattle-based corporate headquarters for company policy on wages. A company human resources official declined to comment. Hanauer did not respond to request for comment.
Public resources indicate that the company continues to pay below the $15 wage rate. GlassDoors.com, which allows workers to submit their pay rates for transparency purposes, has received reports of several jobs that have salary levels far below Hanauer’s minimum wage recommendations.
"Quality Assurance" and "Consumer Response" specialists reported wages of $12 and $13 hourly wages, respectively. An anonymous "Customer Account Analyst" praised the company’s atmosphere in a GlassDoor review, but also warned potential applicants that they should expect a "low salary compared to the region."
Hanauer, a venture capitalist in the tech sector, has helped drive wages up in the region. He campaigned publicly for the successful effort to establish a $15 minimum wage in Seattle and has backed similar efforts in other states and cities. New York Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo listed him as one of nearly 90 state businessman who support a $15 wage.
Michael Saltsman, a labor expert at the Employment Policies Institute, said that Hanauer’s wage recommendations would make "it difficult for other entrepreneurs to be equally prosperous." He told the Washington Free Beacon that Hanauer should recognize how "unrealistic" a $15 wage is for entry-level work given his own family’s experience.
"The tech companies that Hanauer has helped found don't face the same labor cost pressures as restaurants and grocery stores that earn just a few thousand dollars in profit per employee," he said. "Hanauer should know better, as his family company has apparently been paying entry-level wages for ‘unskilled, entry-level jobs’—their words, not mine."
This is not the first time Hanauer has run into controversy for his views on the economy. TED Talks deleted a speech he delivered to its elite conference of millionaires and billionaires, citing its partisan nature.
"Rich people don’t create jobs, nor do businesses, large or small," he said in the speech. "Calling ourselves job creators isn’t just inaccurate, it’s disingenuous."
Forbes columnist Bruce Upbin gave the talk an acerbic review and called into question Hanauer’s grasp on basic economics and the facts.
"It was just a case of the TED organizers deciding that this particular presentation was categorically mediocre," Upbin said.
Hanauer will continue to play a large role in public policy for years to come given his position with Democracy Alliance. The group, an elite collection of activists who pledge to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to select liberal groups, partners with some of the leading agitators for a $15 minimum wage, including Priorities USA and SEIU.