How Much is Enough?

13 Jun

As America struggles to regain footing after the economic collapse in 2008, there is one simple solution that would turn this economy around very quickly – raise wages for the bottom and middle of wage earners.

Before my conservative friends think I’ve gone all French, I’m not talking about a legislated minimum wage or Socialism.  I’m talking about respecting the work people provide for the bottom line of any company.  Respect is not socialism.  It is human and necessary to fix America.

Corporations and small companies alike disrespect their paid labor when they refuse to pay them a fair share of company proceeds.

For capitalism to win out over socialism, wages have to increase for the bottom 80% of earners. According to Census Bureau data, over 100 million Americans (one third of the population!) live on less than $38,000 per year income.

Half the jobs in the country pay less than $34,000 a year, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Not only that, but wages in this spectrum, the so called “low-paying job” have been stuck since I was one year old. Yep, they have increased 7% (adjusted for inflation) in 40 years. That is shameful. We need to publicly shame CEOs and Boards of Directors who demand this!

In fact, you want to get angry, go check out this link!

As I stated earlier, I’m no socialist. I don’t want laws governing more pay. I want the leaders of American business to stop acting like 1700’s English Aristocrats.  Stop pretending as if their position as CEO is appointed by God and brings 10,000 times the value to a company as the low paid employee. Stop treating everyday Americans as indentured slaves.

This isn’t a social argument, only.  It would be good business.  More wages means more money spent and more money saved, both large drivers in the economy we live in today.  Here is an example of one company who gets this premise, maybe you’ve heard of them? They are Costco.

In this article, Costco CEO Craig Jelinek says “it’s shameful that so many American companies are now cutting the hours of part-time employees to less than 30 hours a week so they won’t be required to cover their health insurance.”

He goes on to say, “As long as you continue to take care of the customer, take care of employees, and keep your expenses in line, good things are going to happen to you.” What a concept! Take care of employees.  After all, they take care of the company, correct?

Over my many years dealing with business owners, I’ve constantly been shocked how many of them view their employees as thankless leeches.  Economics 101 tells us to grow a company, one must leverage other people’s time and efforts.

Example, George Steinbrenner (rest his greedy soul) may have owned the Yankees. But if not for the actual ballplayers, his company and ballclub had no value. He could not play all 9 spots on the field by himself. He needed ballplayers.  He needed employees. Every company does.

Is this hopeless? Obviously Congress, currently among the few well-paid employees of these shameful companies, isn’t up for making laws on wages.  And quite honestly, that doesn’t work. (See – France)

What would work is public pressure. History shows us people can change this tide.  In the 1910’s and again in the 1940’s people began to demand better working conditions, including pay.  Popular unrest, better journalism and political leadership than we have at the moment, turned the tide.

Why shop at WalMart when you can shop at Costco? Why shop at Whole Foods when you can shop at Oliver’s?  Why shop at the Gap when you can visit Nordstrom?  Sure, budgets have something to do with all those places.  But mostly, people are not voting with their dollars. By patronizing companies which treat their employees with respect and avoiding those which do not, this issue will get better. It is quite simple.

As long as we verify for fortune 500 companies that their practice of indentured slavery is ok with us (by purchasing their goods) they will keep it up. So next time you go out to shop, or buy something online, take a moment to think about how they treat their employees.  It just takes a moment.

For more on our philosophy, please visit our website . Another great resource for this different approach to business is the B Corporation page. Or click here for more on B Corps! Lest you don’t think we eat our own cooking, I decided to show Sarah the ultimate respect a owner can show an employee a few years ago. I made her a partner and part owner of the company.  Sure, that is money out of my pocket. But would we have the company we have today without her tireless commitment? No way.

I can’t tell you how many people advised me against such a move.  Told me I was crazy. A fool. That I should never give up equity. But when I pressed back with a simple “why not?” the answer was always the same, it came down to money.  Short-sighted, greedy thinking, isn’t it?

It wouldn’t be hard for most CEOs and small business owners to pay their workers more. In most cases, it wouldn’t bankrupt their companies. In fact, there are a lot of examples of the opposite. It would mean those at the top must take less pay.  As Americans, we should begin to reward companies like Costco, Patagonia, and others who have chosen this route. We must all begin to ask “How much is enough?” When we do, CEOs will notice.  And it will change for the better.

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