By Caitlin Kelly
‘Tis the season!
Check out the 300 comments — and climbing (including a long one from me) — at the Harvard Business Review blog where a Wharton professor, Peter Capelli, (gasp, competing B-school!) posted the following argument in favor of actually paying workers a living wage:
Jobs paying $15 per hour are not the concern, though. Those are routinely seen as good jobs now. The concern is those jobs paying at or around the minimum wage, $7.25 per hour or only $1160 per month for a
full-time job. About 1.6 million workers in the U.S. are paid at that level, and a surprising 2 million are actually paid less than that under various exemptions. If you are an employer paying the minimum wage or close to it, the Government has determined that your employees need help to pay for food, housing, and healthcare even if they have no family and no one to look after but themselves. As we’ve been reminded this season, many of those workers also need help from families and coworkers to get by.
No doubt the reason low-wage companies continue to pay low wages is because there are plenty of workers willing to take jobs at those wages, and the need to pay more to avoid the risk of being unionized is
largely gone. But “can” and “ought” are not the same thing. Nothing about the minimum wage implies that it is morally ok as long as you pay at least that much. It simply says that the government will prosecute you if try to pay less than that level.
A longstanding principle in all developed countries including the U.S. is that labor is not like a commodity where taking advantage of the market to squeeze down prices is a fact of life. Employees have human rights that do not disappear when they enter the workplace. Even in business law, principles like the “mechanic’s lien” say that employees should be paid before other creditors because they are more vulnerable than businesses and do not get profits to compensate them for risks.
We’re at an inflection point in the U.S., where some low-wage workers, unprecedented in decades, have actually begun to stage walk-outs, strikes and protests in recent weeks.
In Germany — where 9,000 workers are employed by Amazon — employees have just gone on strike.
I have — as we say here in sports-metaphor-obsessed-America — skin in this particular game.
I worked 2.5 years making $11/hour (the federal minimum is still $7.25/hour) selling costly outdoor clothing at an upscale mall, the subject of my book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.”
No matter how insanely productive we were — one of us sold $16,000 worth of merch one holiday Saturday — we never got more hours or serious raise (mine was 30 cents/hour) or a boost into a low-management position with a (barely) liveable salary.
The endless argument in favor paying crap is that low-wage workers are all teens, seniors and/or have no skills.
False! A recent survey of 436 New York City retail workers found that two-thirds of them are supporting another family member on their wages. Their average age? 24.
I also pay my assistants $15/hour, albeit part-time, about 10 hours a month. This year I paid out $1,5000 in wages to one worker, a significant amount for a one-person shop — me — and a healthy sum to a person new to my line of work, in effect, someone essentially entry-level I was training and paying.
I am appalled, disgusted and fed up with corporate greed, corporate welfare and the right-wing outrage that all low-wage jobs are low-skilled. They’re not.
Every single job adds profit to an employer’s bottom line or — in union-free America — it’s swiftly cut, with no severance or warning.
Walmart and MacDonalds workers suck up my tax dollars in Medicaid and food stamps because their greedhead CEOs think this is moral, equitable and justifiable way to treat workers.
How about you?