Some Local 117 members have been questioning why labor and community groups are supporting a higher minimum wage. It’s a question that needs to be addressed.
$15.00 per hour buys less today than what the minimum wage bought in the late 1960’s. In fact, some economists say that for today’s minimum wage to have the same buying power as it did 50 years ago it would need to be in the $22.00 to $26.00 an hour range.
The minimum wage has not kept up with inflation. Its buying power has eroded over time to where workers are having to go out and get two and sometimes three jobs just to pay the rent and make ends meet.
Companies like WalMart, and McDonald’s, whose business model depends on the minimum wage, are quite profitable. But the quiet story behind much of that profitability is that we as taxpayers are subsidizing their profits. Those companies, as well as many others, provide help to their employees to apply for food stamps and other taxpayer supported aid so that they can survive. Those companies know that their own employees can’t make it on a minimum wage. The result is our taxes provide profit to the shareholders and executives of those companies.
Some companies today, as a result of the $15.00 movement, are raising wages in part because of public pressure, but also because their own employees cannot afford to shop in their stores. They can’t sell their product if consumers don’t have the money to buy it. That’s why so many small business owners in SeaTac supported the ballot initiative. They knew that if people have more money in their pocket they’ll spend it.
Recognizing that fact, years ago Henry Ford paid his production workers the unheard sum of $5.00 per day to produce Model T’s. The business community was up in arms that Ford was upsetting the lower wage rates of that era. Ford replied that he did it so that his workers could afford to buy the cars that they made. He was expanding his market and improving the economy as whole, as well as providing job security for his workers.
For Local 117 members, raising the minimum wage helps us directly in contract negotiations. If we cannot raise the wage floor for minimum wage workers, then it becomes harder to negotiate wage and benefit increases for our members. Employers look around and wonder why they should pay Union wages and benefits when there is a pool of workers who will work for the minimum wage, without benefits. Employers have less pressure to agree to higher wages and benefits when so many earn so little.
Fighting to raise the minimum wage is not only the right thing to do, it also protects our members and their contracts.
- Read how an increase in the minimum wage can reduce gender and racial inequality.