Sunday, May 14, 2017

Scrooge, Before or After?

No, it is not Christmas; it's Mothers Day, the day we celebrate all the mothers: good, bad, and indifferent. On Mothers Day we haul out our good memories (if there are any) and triumphantly hand over cards, gifts, flowers, and chocolate to say Thank you for being our mother. It doesn't matter if your mother was less than loving and kind or if she was sometimes abusive or thoughtless, we change our hearts for one day and celebrate mothers who have had a difficult job to do, take a small child and mold that child into an adult. For this one day, we put aside grievances and petty differences and choose to be happy and thankful we were not raised by wolves.

Okay, stop that! No giggling when I'm making a point. Yes, I know wolves would be far superior to some of our mothers. That's not the point. The point is that on Mothers Day we offer those mothers who, for whatever reason, had a rougher time of being a good and kind mother the chance to change her heart and live up to being the best mother she can be.

Think of it as though it is Christmas Eve and the ghosts are giving Scrooge his last chance to give up his miserly and unfriendly ways, embrace the spirit of Christmas, and be a better man with holly in his heart celebrating the spirit of Christmas every day.

Not long ago, millennials demanded that the Minimum Wage Law be changed so that employees in low paying jobs would get $15 an hour instead of the current $7.25 an hour, which is more than double what the law requires. The problem is not changing the law. The problem is changing employers' hearts much like Scrooge's heart was changed.

The CEO of Sam's Club pays $8.89-$11.40 an hour for new employees on the bottom rung of the hiring ladder, which is higher than minimum wage. One could say that Sam's Club is not a fast food restaurant chain and the work requires a bit more of the employee, but that would be missing the point. The minimum wage law is to set a limit on how little employers can get away with paying their employees. The law does not limit how much an employer can pay an employee because the sky -- and the employer's assets -- will determine that.

And that is the point.

Think of raising the minimum wage in terms of Ebenezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit.  Scrooge is a miser and prefers to get the most from his measly coins. Since he concentrates on how many coins he has and how best to increase those coins, Scrooge skimps on coals to keep the office as cold as he can stand it just as he skimps on how much he pays his clerk.  Scrooge's mind is on keeping his wealth to himself and grudging every request and duty to spend what he has. Scrooge's heart is as cold as his Christmas Eve office and Bob Cratchit's hands. No doubt Scrooge believes that if his office is as cold as the winter streets visitors will think twice about stopping by and won't stay long if they do stop.

Until the spirits of Christmas visit Scrooge Christmas Eve night to remind him of old Fezziwig, Scrooge's boss at his first position, and shows him what could be at his nephew's home where Scrooge has been invited, and where his nephew, Fred, stands up to his friends to speak kindly of his miserly uncle, and the impoverished home where the Cratchits put together a meager Christmas Day feast from what they can afford, Mother Cratchit refusing to drink Scrooge's health until Bob reminds her that his miserly boss employs Bob and has paid for the feast. This Christmas story is not one that should remain only a holiday treat and a Christmas seasons lesson, but should be read every day and the lesson kept close to our hearts especially when people are rioting and demonstrating for a change in the minimum wage law without understanding what it is they are really doing.

The minimum wage law prohibits employers from refusing to pay their employees a living wage. The law was enacted in order to keep employers on the straight and narrow as long as they do the least possible for their employees. Employers get around the law by hiring illegal immigrants to work as cheaply as possible, subverting the law and effectively placing desperate and hungry people in a no-win situation. As the immigrants are illegal, they have no recourse to the law to protect them because they are illegally in the United States. By banding together with other illegal immigrants, they pool their resources, cramming into cheap apartments where the landlords only care about being paid and not about how many people are living, eating, and sleeping in one room as long as the rent is paid on time and in full. There is no law to protect the immigrants who flaunted the law after leaving their homes, fleeing grinding poverty, -- often little better than plywood packing crates -- without running water and with safe sewage/trash disposal to travel north to the United States where at least they will have a job even if it means living two, three, and four families to a one-bedroom apartment in a tenement with running water, toilets, and a kitchen where there is heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer.

The thing about the law is that the law only works when everyone follows it. There are always ways for the greedy to ignore the law to take advantage of others who have also ignored the law.

That's the thing about minimum wage. The law protects the greedy misers from cheating lawful American citizens and paying them less than the minimum wage.

There is no law that prohibits employers from paying higher wages. All that keeps employers from paying a living wage is selfish greed. Like Sam's Club's CEO who pays his entry level workers a better starting wage, there are many employers who choose to pay their workers more than the minimum wage. Those employers also supply good and affordable premium health care plans and offer generous vacations and sick leave policies. The trick is finding these generous men and women and being hired.

That is what fast food chains were supposed to be, a place for young workers to get their feet wet and where older workers could supplement their retirement income. Minimum wage jobs were a place to begin, and often unfortunately to end, but such jobs were never meant to be a place to grow, evolve, and climb to better and more lucrative positions.

I worked at McDonald's for a few months as a teenager, earning less than minimum wage, which was $1.65 an hour, when I was 16 years old. I didn't work there long because I had my sights set on something else. The something else was a job making $2.50 an hour as a keypunch operator, what would be called now a data entry operator. The technology has changed and I have changed along with it, advancing from a low level clerical worker to a trained and experienced medical transcriptionist with more than 30 years of experience, knowledge, and education. The sad fact is that I make less now than I did when I started in medical records 33 years ago, a third less than my starting wage.

That's the thing about employers. The employer wants to make money and to do that s/he must take a cut from employees' salaries in order to make enough money to pay the bills, buy and maintain equipment, expand facilities, and still have enough money left over to afford their own car, house, vacations, and retirement. If the employer keeps salaries down, s/he will end up with a nice bank account that pays the bills and leaves enough to buy their house, car, insurance, utilities, vacations, and still pay for their children's education so they can find a better job than their parents offer to people without a master's or PhD in education. Their plans are for themselves and their children and their children's children and not for their employees who must manage for themselves. After all, one must think of oneself before thinking of others. They do what the law allows and that is enough. Their fellow men and women must think, plan, and work for themselves. It's a dog-eat-dog world and there is always another dog hungrier and more desperate willing to take advantage and take the food and money right out of your mouth. And then there are the illegal immigrants willing to work for slave wages and live in tenements with other families who have illegally entered the country so they can pool their wages so their families can live better lives that is better than what they had in their home countries.

Jobs in food service are allowed to pay less than minimum wage because they earn tips every day or because they get part of their wages in food. After all, they work in a restaurant or fast food establishment and should be paid in free food. Tips are supposed to be declared and taxed (they usually aren't) and will also provide a steady stream of daily income that will even out the rough spots (it doesn't, especially if you work in a restaurant or bar where the patrons stiff you or believe a dime or quarter is sufficient tip for serving a family of 10 for two hours). No matter where you turn, someone is willing to cheat you in order to keep more of their money for themselves.

Fast food chains are franchises and, if the corporation will not change their policies on how much money an owner/manager may earn, it is unlikely the pay will be much beyond the corporate set pay scales. The only way to earn a good living in a fast food franchise restaurant is to own the corporation and set the prices. If minimum wage is raised, the prices for their products must also be raised to offset the cost. After all, what owner/manager will willingly take a cut in their pay and what corporation would opt to take a cut in profits to pay their workers more than the minimum wage the federal government has set?

What is needed is a change of heart. Corporate CEOs and boards need to choose accept lower returns on their investment, which would mean less profits, which would mean spending profits on premium health care coverage that would not take most of a worker's salary to afford, which would mean higher wagers for all workers, which would mean more money for the worker to spend on housing, food and gas allowances, and savings for the worker's children to get a quality college/university education that would make them fit for better jobs and a better future. Of course this plan would only work as long as the focus in on the future of the worker and their children and not on buying another home in Gstad or a month-long vacation in Bali or they Seychelles or even buying an engagement ring for one's fiancee that costs six months' wages for the owner/manager and paying for a 500 guest wedding with a sit-down catered dinner and a $50,000 wedding dress. It all comes down to priorities.

Are the priorities yourself and your lavish comfort or making the world a better place for those less fortunate, and that does not include spending $20,000 on a ticket to a masquerade ball where you dance fore Dyslexia or Polka to prevent Alzheimer's. Let your heart make the choice.

We can live in lavish luxury in a mansion so big you and your spouse and 1.1 children reside alone or you can live in a two- or three-bedroom home in a good neighborhood and host parties for your employees on the big holidays while making sure every one of your workers has a substantial Christmas and annual bonus with top wages and a health care and benefit package that provides for all their families' needs.

Do you want to live your life as Scrooge before or after the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future have visited? Let your heart be the judge. The law of minimum wage or the generosity of what the market will bear?

That is all. Disperse.

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