Today’s Chicago Sun-Times features a debate on the minimum wage. Tom Balanoff a labor leader, argues that a $15 minimum wage would provide a decent standard of life for workers. Mayor Emanuel’s commission has proposed a $13 an hour minimum phased between now and 2018. Balanoff notes that Los Angeles and Seattle have already passed $15 minimum wage laws. His argument focus on the needs of workers.
Sam Sanchez and Sott Defife, a restaurant owner and an official from the National Restaurant Association, argue that a minimum wage increase will hurt business, that it is “not a silver bullet for addressing the city’s economic challenges.” Twice they call for “comprehensive” measures, but never spell out what they would change. Their focus is on the economy, not the lives of individual workers. Still, they claim that most restaurant workers are young, “first time workers.” Once upon a time, that may have been true. Today most restaurant workers I encounter are adults, often in their thirties or forties. As Sanchez and Defife state, youth unemployment is now over 25%, in no small part because adult men and women who once worked in factories now fill low wage jobs in restaurants or retail.
It’s easy to agree with one side or the other in this debate. I’m for a living minimum wage, which could be index from state to state or region to region. In most places, that would mean at least $15 per hour (an average salary of $30,000 a year). At the same time, small businesses have some reason to be fearful of a minimum wage that would put them at a competitive disadvantage. Franchise restaurants work by economy of scale, which lets them control spending in the way that a small hot dog stand or corner store cannot. If it can be done, minimum wage laws could be written in a way that would protect small businesses. In some ways, that is the current standard in the restaurant industry where tipped workers in many states can be paid less than the minimum wage.
This debate is not simple or easy. My primary concern is with what is fair to working people. A good business will adapt its practices to meet what the market demands. Tax payers should not have to pay for services that help large corporations hire workers at a low wage. We need to demand a society where no one who works full time has to depend on state aid for food, shelter, and healthcare. We need to reward work. America needs a raise.
Tony Rohr managed a Pizza Hut Restaurant. He worked for the company for more than 10 years. When the corporate office ordered him to open on Thanksgiving, Rohr refused, arguing that his workers deserved to have the holiday off. Corporate didn’t agree, and they fired Rohr. Asked if he has regrets about his actions, Rohr answered, "No, not at all," he said. "I'm glad I did that."
Tony Rohr should be an example and hero for us this Thanksgiving. Pizza Hut is a turkey.
Timothy Eagan of the New York Times has written a great editorial on the current declining state of the middle class. Corporations get tax breaks from the government. Then they do whatever they can to drive down wages. Eagan looks at the case of Boeing, which received an $8.7 billion tax break and then asked its unions to make concessions. The Machinists Union said, “No.” Now Boeing is threatening to leave the state for one where wages are lower (“Right to Work for Less State”).
Is Boeing in trouble? Eagan writes: “Boeing is on a roll, its stock at a record high despite the troubled rollout of its 787 Dreamliner, and the pay of its C.E.O. boosted 20 percent to a package totaling $27.5 million last year.” If Boeing can give its leader such a raise, why doesn’t it want to compensate the people that build its planes? That’s the magic question, and the answer is that executives and boards of directors do not care about their workers or the health of the national economy. All they know is that they want more and more, which means working people have to make less and less.