Friday, August 30, 2013

How to talk about low-wage strikers

Are you dreading the prospect of talking to your right-wing uncle over the Labor Day weekend?

When the subject of low-wage worker strikes comes up, here are things you can say in response to the predictable anti-worker arguments you'll hear:
  • "Those jobs are for high school kids and dropouts working part time. They don't deserve more money."  Actually most people working in low-wage service sectors like retail and fast-food are middle-age and working full time to support their families. The average age of workers filling low-wage job positions is 35 and more than a third of them are 40 or older. On average, they earn half of their family's income and 28 percent of them have kids.
  • "Well then they should get different jobs if they want more money. It's their fault for choosing to work crappy jobs that are supposed to be for teenagers." No, it isn't their fault because most of them didn't choose those jobs. They were forced into them by an economy being dominated by low-wage industries. By a three-to-one margin, high-skilled, good-paying jobs that have been lost due to recession and bad trade deals have been replaced by low-wage jobs in the service industry. Sixty percent of jobs lost in the recession were in middle-class occupations while 21 percent were in low-wage occupations. Since the recession, 58 percent of job growth has been in low-wage occupations while just 22 percent has been in middle-income level jobs. Do the math!
  • "Still, flipping burgers has always been a minimum wage job and that's the way it should be." Okay, but if we're paying workers based on inflation and productivity, then the minimum wage needs to be increased, too. Right now it stands at just $7.25 an hour and hasn't been increased since 2009. If the minimum wage kept up with inflation over the past 40 years, it would be $10.74. And if it kept up with the rise in productivity it would be $18.67. The annual income for a full-time worker making the federal minimum wage is $15,080 - well below the poverty line for a family of three or four.
  • "Paying low-wage workers more by increasing the minimum wage or giving them raises will hurt businesses and raise prices." Says who? While the CEOs of Walmart and fast-food corporations would love to pass the cost of higher wages on to consumers, they can well afford to pay their workers more. The top eight fast-food chains made $7.35 billion in profits last year. Walmart's CEO makes more in one hour than the average Walmart employee makes in a year. If the CEO of McDonald's -- who got a $4.1 million raise last year -- can take home $13.8 million a year, he can afford to pay workers more than poverty wages.
  • "Well, I'm not a fast-food worker so what they get paid doesn't impact me." Actually it does. The rising number of workers making low wages means more and more people have to turn to public assistance like food stamps and other welfare programs. They can't make ends mean when the only jobs available pay so little. Low wages at a single Walmart store can cost taxpayers up to $900,000 a year. So winning a living wage for workers in retail, fast-food, warehouse and other low-wage industries will save taxpayers tons of money. And let's not forget that higher pay usually means lower employee turnover and higher productivity for business. Plus, higher wages will boost consumer spending and strength local economies.
Finally, remind your right-wing relatives that Labor Day is about honoring workers -- ALL workers!