Thursday, June 03, 2004

Small Business Demands a Raise in Minimum Wage

Small Business Owners Demand an Increase In NYS Minimum Wage

As the owner of Rock Hill Bakehouse (a bread bakery in Glens Falls, N.Y.), I employ forty people. It is my job as the “CEO” to ensure that each receives a livable wage. We will gross about 2 million dollars this year, of which I will keep about $50,000 dollars. This is far below the six-figure salary commonly garnered by those running similar businesses, but I have made a conscious decision not to live off my workers’ backs. I feel that it would be truly immoral to keep the bulk of the profits to myself.

I live in this world, not in some “gated community” where I can avoid the realities that plague my fellow workers. I have worked unbelievably hard and I do feel that I am entitled to a bit extra, but I’m honest enough to know that my investment could never justify a salary dozens of times larger than my entry level employees. I am astounded that anyone could feel entitled to thousands of times what their employees are paid. As an empowered worker, I see the State’s current minimum wage as misguided and insufficient, at best, and as cruel and inspired by corporate lobby efforts, at worst.

The “Wal-Marts” of this world market themselves as models of honor and decency. Why, then, are such a huge preponderance of their employees paid starvation wages? No self-respecting human being would ever dream of paying someone so little for their labor and, perhaps, that’s the key. These large corporations are not run by compassionate human beings, but by the unchecked avarice of their stockholders. This conscienceless capitalism has created a whole new class of unthinking middle-class robber barons, unaware and unconcerned by the damage done to enrich them.

I think of small business as a canvas by which one may express a more enlightened model of the employee/employer relationship. There are many obstacles to successfully completing this “portrait”, foremost of which that we are constantly forced into unfair competition with huge corporations who suckle at the government teat (subsidized development, payroll, benefits, tax cuts and grants). While small business (the largest employer group in the U.S.) does not embarrass itself demanding corporate welfare, larger businesses don’t seem to suffer these pangs of conscience. Apparently, pride in one’s self-sufficiency, like compassion, is a uniquely human characteristic, not a function of greed. Its cruel irony, indeed, that this corrupt system allows these pariahs to use taxpayer money to fund their efforts to affect economic hegemony over small business ands its workers.

In 2002, the gross individual income in New York State was roughly $684 billion dollars. If shared equally, each three-person household would have earned just over $108,000 dollars. In actuality, the median household income was $36,000 dollars. Who got the other $72,000 dollars? A very small minority of the population keeps the lion’s share of the wealth, apparently feeling justified in retaining more than two-thirds of New York State’s potential income! Boy, they must work awfully hard!

I recognize that everyone’s contribution in the workplace is not equal and that, therefore, not everyone is necessarily entitled to an equal share. However, capitalism needs to be regulated such that greed and bad judgment may be forcibly tempered by both compassion and common sense. The best way to remedy the current disparities is to raise the minimum wage. It’s long overdue. Small business-owners already pay far more. The unofficial minimum is much closer to $7.00 an hour.

Opponents of raising the minimum say it will drive up prices (although, interestingly, they don’t seem too concerned when Tyco executives need an extra 2 million dollars for a birthday party)! Its only when a worker needs something more that the world is going to end. Sure, prices may go up, that’s true, but the additional cash in the workers’ hands will fuel higher consumption, right? Raising the wage is a win-win situation, as it has been in every state which has done it thus far. The big-box stores may take a hit, but they too can survive, by slightly altering their priorities as a whole new crop of consumers becomes able to consider quality when making a purchase.

State officials need to stop ignoring their mandate to take care of the people who put them in office. They need to increase the NYS minimum wage to $7.25 an hour, now. If New York would have the courage and intelligence to do this, perhaps the federal government would take note and do what is right, as well. No full-time American worker should ever be living below the federal poverty level. It’s a disgrace! If you are a worker or a small business owner, you need to support and vote for only those public officials who vow to repair this grave imbalance.

Matt Funiciello


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