Tuesday, May 19, 2009


As a result of the media focus on the crash of a commuter flight in Buffalo, NY it has been revealed that pilots starting out and breaking into the industry make about as much as the girl at Starbucks that hands you your coffee in the morning. Add on to that, the fact that the pilots work long days at a job that it is critical they maintain focus and composure and you get a mild national shock.

I was surprised also. I really shouldn't have been given the nature of corporate America that pays the people that actually do the work a pittance while the executives who have never worked a day in their lives rake in exorbitant salaries. Still when you think of a pilot, its the one job that you wanted as a child that even from adulthood still looks like it has the least chance of turning out like the soul crushing office work you wound up doing.

Now more than ever we need the minimum wage to be set to the actual living wage. There really shouldn't be a distinction between the two. Congress should act now because the old argument that raising the minimum wage would cost jobs doesn't fly when companies nation wide have already cut their staff down to bare bones, cutting labor down to workers with essential functions and then cutting just a few more. There aren't any more jobs to loose.

You might still be foolish enough to believe in the American Dream, that hard work pays off, or you might be an aspiring corporate raider and make the argument that this still increases overhead of even small businesses. Sure it does, but you are willfully ignoring the big picture. To be trite, the rising tide raises all boats. If everyone is being paid a living wage, suddenly you have a surge of new consumers that have never had disposable income before. They are buying their coffee from Starbucks instead of from Maxwell House, which increases the dollars in circulation and increases profits and liquidity.

Of course this only happens if Starbucks, forced to increase wages, doesn't increase the price of their already overpriced coffee. Theoretically this could cause an increasing spiral where the costs of goods is increases commensurate to the increase in the minimum wage creating an runaway spiral of inflation. But that's where the other market forces come in. First, not every company will simply raise prices to artificially keep wages low. In our global mega corporation economy where even the store brand discount paper towels are made by the massive conglomerate that makes the costly brand name ones it is easier for such companies to spread any cost increase out over a large population and over time. This doesn't even have to turn into a situation where Congress is robbing the rich to pay the poor.

This was what we once got from unions. We have them to thank for the weekend and the forty hour work week. Unfortunately now they have turned into a punchline about organized crime and an albatross around the neck of the poorly run auto companies. If unions want to become relevant again they need to seize on this recession and take big bold action that will carry us out of the recession. I don't see this happening. They protect workers who don't work and see themselves as the enemy of management. Even worse younger workers have to pay dues into the union and get little out of it by being relegated to the worst jobs not by the company but by the union that is supposed to be looking out for them, and they still get crap wages because the union had to sell out the decent wages of new employees to maintain the benefits of the retired.

That being said, I have worked for companies that hate unions, ones that just aren't unionized, and ones that have a large powerful union and ones where the union is a minor impact on a portion of business, and I have seen that the big powerful unions still have a beneficial impact on more than the quantifiable benefits and wages one gets.

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