Fight for living wage is a worthy one | Guest View

By Tony Markey | Nov 19, 2014
Tony Markey

I was surprised to see a former mayor of Mukilteo’s tirade at the prospect of raising of the minimum wage [“$15 – Not Now!,” Guest View, page 4, Nov. 12].

Emory Cole’s rant was a cornucopia of conspiracy theories, a demonstration of his belief in trickle-down economics and a stern caution at the boogeyman of socialism in America.

Consider these facts from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Low Income Housing Coalition:

Half of the Americans earning minimum wage are over 25 years old. Eighty percent of them are white.

In every state in the country, a minimum wage worker has to work 70 hours or more per week to afford the average apartment.

The reality of the minimum wage in the U.S. today, is that too often the Americans earning it aren’t “the young” and “immigrants,” as he assumes. That’s a common misconception.

Wal-Mart and McDonald’s have resources to help their full-time workers sign up for government assistance because so many workers are still under the federal poverty level.

The current minimum wage equals poverty for a great number of Americans, and raising it would help cut taxpayer costs for SNAP programs in every state. That would have the effect of reducing government.

Google “CEO Pay versus worker pay,” and you’ll see graphs of an incredible gap. The outsourcing Mayor Cole fears has already happened to many middle class workers in the U.S.

But paying $15 an hour isn’t going to prompt a small business owner to outsource their landscaping jobs to Malaysia, their sign-spinners to Guam, or their fry cooks to Bangalore. It’s extremely difficult to outsource jobs at the very bottom of the pay scale.

As comedian Chris Rock said: “I used to work at McDonald's, making minimum wage. You know what that means when someone pays you minimum wage? You know what your boss was trying to say? ‘Hey if I could pay you less, I would, but it's against the law.’”

Mayor Cole takes aim at SEIU's support of the measure as simply designed to create more “subjects.” His word. Subjects.

Is it so surprising that a union might fight for a living wage? I was especially surprised to hear that from a former mayor of Mukilteo.

We have so many union workers locally, which has prevented outsourcing on many occasions. I’m sure those union members bristled at Cole’s comments.

He takes it one step further in the same paragraph: In the dramatic conspiracy theory he’s created, those in government and running for political office must be involved.

Again, how is supporting a living wage so self-serving? Could it be that the concept isn’t a vast conspiracy, but might actually have popular support?

According to OSPI, in 2013 more than 7,500 children qualified for free and reduced lunches in the Mukilteo School District alone. Almost 400 of those students were at Kamiak High School.

How many of these children would not have to apply for free lunches if the minimum wage was increased? This isn’t an abstract problem. It’s a very serious reality for our community.

A socialism rant against a member of the Seattle City Council marks the latter half of Mayor Cole’s Op-Ed. It was indecipherable. Other than to assuming that his obvious personal disdain for her upbringing colored his remarks, it was a tangential veer into absolutist nonsense.

Seattle City Councilmember Sawant is not the only supporter of raising the minimum wage, though she has been a vocal proponent. I’m left with the feeling that Cole doesn’t agree with the councilmember’s personal choices or upbringing, and therefore he doesn’t agree with her position.

But to introduce the example of socialism in France as some sort of McCarthyist cry for a witch-hunt is too much. We’re talking about Americans being able to buy food and supply their basic needs, not some socialist conspiracy theory.

There is one aspect of the minimum wage debate that definitely bears further scrutiny. If you raise wages, then business owners have to compensate, potentially increasing the cost of consumer goods and business services.

That is the best part of the argument Mayor Cole advances; the argument he should have developed in his Op-Ed. Some increase in price is inevitable, and that should be a significant point of discussion.

That essence of that question goes something like: Do we suffer a possible increase in the price of goods, whatever that is, but help Americans make a living wage?

Or do we protect business interests at the expense of the working poor?

My favorite response to that issue is from Samantha Bee on “The Daily Show.” In response to the suggestion that we might experience $10 hamburgers if we raise the minimum wage, she replies with thoughtful sarcasm:

“I do like my hamburgers flavored with the tears of poverty…”

If we continue to insist on wages that won’t pay the rent, that’s a flavor we should all get used to.

Tony Markey is a marketing and business consultant in Mukilteo. He holds a master’s degree in business administration.

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.