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Courtesy of the Clinton Global Initiative

CGI Gathers Mid-Market Leaders To Spar Over Minimum Wage

How high is too high, anyway?

Mid-market companies helped fuel a spirited debate on economic justice and raising the minimum wage at the Clinton Global Initiative in Denver this week.

In a panel discussion that will air this Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Chipotle Mexican Grill co-CEO Monty Moran advocated for business-led solutions, like his company’s program to train entry-level minimum-wage restaurant workers for management positions.

Where the minimum wage stands is not as important as what companies do once new workers come into the business, said Moran.

“Is the goal of whoever hires them to keep them at that wage, or is the idea that you’re going to take that person and empower that person to take advantage of opportunities so that they can rise up and have positions of leadership?” he asked.

About 98 percent of Chipotle’s managers are promoted from its entry-level crew. Last year, the company promoted 9,000 workers to management level positions and four to executive positions, he said.

Business executive and Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina said that raising the minimum wage would hurt workers looking for entry level jobs. “There’s way too much crony capitalism in our economy today…and not enough mainstream entrepreneurialism,” she said.

President Bill Clinton disagreed. He said data shows that as long as the minimum wage is not above 50% of median wage, it will increase pay without reducing employment.

“I spend a lot of time thinking about this, so I think it should be raised, and I think all consumers should be prepared to pay for it,” he said. “If somebody works full time and they have kids, they ought to be able to raise their kids without being in poverty.”

And Sara Horowitz, founder and executive director of the mid-sized Freelancers Union, advocated for policies that create “meaningful independence” for the one third of Americans who are independent workers. “You need to be able to provide health insurance and retirement and all those things that really enable people to be great entrepreneurs,” she said. “And I think that matters whether you are a minimum wage worker or a well-paid executive.”

Chipotle’s Moran said more CEOs and executives need to understand “the enormous talent at entry level positions of people who aren’t particularly educated and aren’t particularly experienced…but have extraordinary character.”

President Clinton expressed support for Chipotle’s efforts.

“The reason I like the Chipotle example is that I don’t think most Americans resent someone doing well,” he said. “They resent it if they’re not getting a fair deal.”

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