This week Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law legislation making California the first state in the nation to approve a $15 minimum hourly wage. Even though it will be six years until fully realized, this is a landmark achievement and long overdue.
The current minimum wage of $10 will be increased to $10.50 in January of next year, then to $11.00 in January of 2018. It will subsequently be raised $1 a year until it reaches $15 in 2022. Small businesses with 25 or fewer employees will get an extra year to effect these adjustments.
Provisions have been made to slow overall implementation in the event unanticipated recessionary or budgetary challenges arise in the future.
With a full one-third of California’s workforce currently being paid the minimum wage and often cynically expected to live on such, arguments that $10 an hour should be regarded as “entry level” compensation exclusively limited to novice employees are as absurd as they are self-serving.
Similarly preposterous is the claim that capitalism and socialism are diametrically opposed – an archaic notion now cleverly revived with sinister malice by the surprisingly well-received presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders, his candidacy especially supported by enthusiastic younger demographics. Senator Sanders proposes having the Federal government follow California’s example by increasing the minimum to $15 an hour nationally.
I have previously discussed my own experiences being on both sides of a picket line in earlier days, initially as “Audit Man” for Local 46 of the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (NABET) when I was a young DJ at WTAC in Flint, Michigan, then eventually negotiating with the union for management as President and CEO at that same facility ten years later.
This was in Flint - home of the United Auto Workers and site of the historic 1936 sit-down strike at General Motors that brought forth a now disappearing American Middle Class.
Flint taught me this:
* Unrestrained unionism yields anarchistic chaos.
* Unchecked management breeds aristocratic tyranny.
* Blessed is the balance.
Balance is always a precarious proposition.
There’s a long history of who gets what in return for a day’s work. Ironically, the first modern wage laws date back to feudal times in 1389 and a decree by King Edward III of England, a wealthy landowner, that set a maximum amount lords and vassals might pay their serfs. The Black Plague of 1348 had decimated the population, seriously driving up labor costs. With a majestic frown, those wages came down. But it wasn’t long before equitable payment to the under classes became tied to the cost of food when a “living wage” was established with “The Statute of Laborers” in 1389.
The pendulum has swung back and forth for centuries. There can be no doubt that one of the most politically conservative and wildly successful entrepreneurs in American history was the legendary Henry Ford, who shocked his industrial peers in 1914 by introducing the “socialistic travesty” of a “Five Dollar Day” at his plants in Detroit. In fact, Henry’s decision not only immediately doubled workers’ pay, but also reduced their workday from nine to eight hours.
As stated on the Ford Motor Company website, “Workers entered the middle class, and could afford to buy the cars they built. Henry Ford became a hero to millions. And eventually, other manufacturers had to follow suit.”
The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 under the Administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt first introduced statutory minimum wages in The United States. This brought about such radical notions as guaranteeing a forty-hour workweek, setting Ford’s eight-hour workday as a national standard, providing time-and-a-half for overtime pay and condemning “oppressive child labor.”
As industrialization had moved workers from farms into urban factory employment, children were often preferred as employees since owners considered them more manageable, cheaper and less likely to strike.
And Henry Ford is not the only conservative voice of sound business practice ringing down to us through the years.
“It is a serious national evil that any class of His Majesty’s subjects should receive less than a living wage in return for their utmost exertions” -Sir Winston Churchill, April 28, 1909.
Take that, King Edward.