Monday, June 8, 2015

A Constructive Facebook Discussion on Raising Minimum Wage

A little while back, a few Facebook friends were debating the merits of raising the national minimum wage. One posted a link to an article entitled "Fast Food Workers: You Don’t Deserve $15 an Hour to Flip Burgers, and That’s OK" and commented about its viability.

The article is a letter to those in the fast-food industry and claims the jobs they hold are not "worth" the pay these workers are requesting via protests and social media efforts.
I want to talk to those of you who actually consider yourselves entitled to close to a $29,000 a year full-time salary for doing a job that requires no skill, no expertise and no education; those who think a fry cook ought to earn an entry-level income similar to a dental assistant; those who insist the guy putting the lettuce on my Big Mac ought to make more than the emergency medical technician who saves lives for a living; those who believe you should automatically be able to “live comfortably,” as if “comfort” is a human right.

...
So, real talk: Your job isn’t worth 15 bucks an hour. Sure, as a human being, you’re priceless. As a child of God, you’re precious, a work of art, a freaking miracle. But your job wrapping hamburgers in foil and putting them in paper bags — that has a price tag, and the price tag ain’t anywhere close to the one our economy and society puts on teachers and mechanics.

Don’t like it? Well, you shouldn’t. It’s fast food. It’s menial. It’s mindless. It’s not supposed to be a career. It’s not supposed to be a living. An entry-level position making roast beef sandwiches at Arby’s isn’t meant to be something you do for 26 years.

It isn’t paying enough? OK, get another job. Get a second job. Get a third job. Get a different job.

When my friend posted this on Facebook, I immediately saw the flaw in the article. The article, like most people in the minimum wage debate, isn't attacking the right target. Those for a minimum wage increase are looking towards politicians for support and those against a minimum wage increase are attacking the laborers saying they don't "deserve" it.

No one is attacking the companies and their profit margins. The truth, like most issues, lay in the middle.

Here is what I posted on my friend's Facebook wall:

None of the arguments are approaching this right. They should be looking at the total amount of profit generated by the corporations, looking at the dividends paid to shareholders, the cash holdings of corporations, dividing that by the amount of lowest level employees, and negotiating that companies reduce their profits by a rational amount. Sure minimum wage is low, and we can argue semantics of the word "minimum" and what it means to work hard, but those are all semantics. If you want your boss to share the profits, you have to calculate your labor to your generated profits.

Friend's reply: Lots of companies pay a living wage without it affecting prices. Costco is a great example. Low turnover, excellent service, excellent job satisfaction, and hugely profitable.

My response: Costco is a good example - increasing shareholders and employee income - but are they the norm when it comes to profits? Or are they an outlier?

Friend's reply: They are an outlier, but why? Their model is a successful one. They are only an outlier because so few are willing to follow the (successful) model, which makes no sense.

My response: Because we don't teach our corporate leaders morality. Why are bank tellers making only $13 an hour while bank CEOs and Wall St fat cats making millions in bonuses? It's not fair, and perhaps like the labor advancements of the early 20th century (child labor laws, unions, etc), we are entering a new era of corporate idealism. But you can't mandate business models from government. It has to be done by labor force movements or by management.

Friend's reply: It is the value of money / value of people debate. I will always stand on the side of treating humans with dignity and Respect.

My final response:
And we do need that. And we need business schools etc to teach business students to care about more than money. We need them to take social sciences classes so they understand the cultures in which their businesses operate. We need to discourage investment in companies that don't treat their people right. (This is turning into my own blog post. Sorry!)

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I don't normally get into long conversations on Facebook. They usually get out of control very quickly. Or people get offended. But this was a good conversation.

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