Fourteen Years and Counting
by C. A. Matthews
Most of us can remember our “first, real paying job.” For Americans, we were most likely in high school, and a classmate mentioned to us between classes how their boss was looking for more summer workers and that we should apply and make some money. I had been babysitting for our neighbors since I was about twelve years old, but it was very hit and miss work, and there was a lot of competition on our street. This was my chance to enter the “real paying job world” at age sixteen. I road my bicycle a couple of miles from my home to interview and got the gig. I worked a long, hot and stormy summer standing on my feet for eight hour shifts in a soft-serve ice cream walk-up stand along Main Street and made the huge sum of $1.25 per hour for about 32 hours of work per week.
Hard to believe $1.25 an hour was considered "good pay,"but that was the state’s minimum wage for “tipped employees” at that time. All restaurant workers were paid that amount hourly. It didn’t matter that we didn’t get tipped making ice cream cones for folks who walked up to the window. We were still considered “food service workers” and paid that lowly wage. I worked hard that summer and ended up getting a raise—a whole $1.35 per hour.
Wow. I thought I’d had it made.
The next summer, a friend told me about a job working at a warehouse clearance sale for a national franchised dress shop located in our local “mall,” a newfangled place built on the east side of town and not located downtown where a few of the big department stores were still to be found. I was overjoyed when I heard what this job paid—a whole $2.35 an hour! It was the federal minimum wage. It was what older people made working similar jobs, so I really felt like an adult at age seventeen. Even though I spent a lot on clothes with my employee discount of 10% off that summer, I saved a bit of money that I later used to get ready for college.
Almost a half century and many jobs later, the federal minimum wage hasn’t moved upward all that much when adjusted for inflation. For the past fourteen years, the federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25. But why? Corporate profits are up practically across the board or so we’re told on the nightly news. CEOs get huge bonus packages. “Bidenomics is working,” neoliberals insist. What’s wrong with us if we’re struggling to get by in the midst of all this “booming economy” we’re told exists in the US today?
Maybe it’s not us who are wrong about the reality of our situations. Consider this:
The federal minimum wage in the United States would be more than $42 an hour today if it rose at the same rate as the average Wall Street bonus over the past four decades, according to an analysis … by the Institute for Policy Studies.
Citing newly released data from the New York State Comptroller, IPS noted that the average Wall Street bonus has increased by 1,165% since 1985, not adjusted for inflation.
Last year, the average cash bonus paid to Wall Street employees was $176,700—75% higher than in 2008 but slightly lower than the 2021 level of $240,400.
The federal minimum wage, meanwhile, has been completely stagnant since 2009, when it was bumped up to $7.25 from $5.15. While many states and localities have approved substantial pay increases in recent years, 20 states have kept their hourly wage floors at the federal minimum.
So, where’s our $42 per hour? I guess it’s in the same place where our $600 went when we were promised $2,000 COVID relief checks when Biden took office, but we only received $1,400, right?
What’s a working stiff in the US to do? We can’t even afford to rent an apartment anywhere in the fifty states working full-time hours (if you can get them) at $7.25 an hour. There have been talks and protests centered around raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, but can anyone even afford to rent a decent place to live on that amount? It’s doubtful. Not even a $25 minimum wage can help a family rent a home in many cities.
American workers do have one powerful option, but it’s rarely been discussed since Reagan took office. We have the ability to strike—if we’re not forbidden to do so by federal law, such as the case with railroad workers or air traffic controllers, that is. But so many Americans have been brainwashed into thinking that a strike will cost them their job and their health insurance, so they simply won’t consider it.
Are Americans cowards? Not necessarily. I’d say we’re realists. We know we have no safety nets like workers in other countries who are blessed with universal health care and universal basic income or "UBI" payments. With no way to provide for our families without our lousy paying jobs, we’d best stay put and put up with the harsh treatment of the bosses.
But are strikes really all that risky for workers? Where did we get this idea that we the working class are essentially powerless and only billionaires can get what they want? Consider this:
The Teamsters Union and UPS have reached a tentative agreement on a new contract to cover the 340,000 Teamsters who work for the package shipping giant.
According to a statement released by the union, the new contract is “the most historic tentative agreement for workers in the history of UPS,” promising wage increases, an end to the two-tier wage system, new air conditioning in vehicles, Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a full company holiday, and more.
In the days and weeks to come, members will debate the pros and cons of the proposal as thousands of UPS Teamsters vote on whether to ratify the contract. But one thing seems undeniable: Any significant gains won by Teamsters against a reluctant employer will have come about because rank-and-file workers showed the company that they were prepared to strike.
I put that last sentence in italics for emphasis. It bears repeating: Any significant gains won by Teamsters against a reluctant employer will have come about because rank-and-file workers showed the company that they were prepared to strike.
Rank-and-file workers actually have power? Yes, we do! Even the possibility of a strike can motivate a reluctant employer to sit down and discuss the workers’ grievances and demands. And if push comes to shove, the workers walk out and give the employers even more to worry about as the company's profits take a hit and its reputation as being a fair and honest employer is thrown into the dumpster.
Fourteen years of a stagnant federal minimum wage (with no maximum wage for billionaires set) and no universal health coverage for all Americans should be a wake up call even for the sleepiest of workers. Our government doesn’t work for us, the people, but for those who already have more than enough wealth and power and obviously don’t give care one bit about how many workers can’t even afford to rent an apartment or put food on the table for their families. Our government doesn’t care if we or our loved ones get sick, and we have no way to afford medical care other than to beg strangers for donations via GoFundMe.
Face it, America. It’s time to lose the blind loyalty to both your employers and to our government. They don’t have our best interests at heart. And we have the power to make them see things our way—strike!
Related Articles and Interesting Links:
UPS Workers Disproved Corporate Media’s Narrative That Strikes Are Harmful https://truthout.org/articles/ups-workers-disproved-corporate-medias-narrative-that-strikes-are-harmful/
The UPS Strike Looms As Corporate America Cashes In
Record Wages Should Be Received If Record Profits Are Being Generated https://popularresistance.org/record-wages-should-be-received-if-record-profits-are-being-generated/
US Minimum Wage Would Be $42 Today If It Rose as Much as Wall St. Bonuses: Analysis https://www.commondreams.org/news/minimum-wage-wall-street-bonuses
‘An Abomination’: Today Marks 14 Years Since the Last Federal Minimum Wage Increase https://scheerpost.com/2023/07/25/an-abomination-today-marks-14-years-since-the-last-federal-minimum-wage-increase/
Michigan Amazon Workers Stage Largest Delivery Station Strike Yet https://labornotes.org/2023/07/michigan-amazon-workers-stage-largest-delivery-station-strike-yet
Chris Hedges: The Forgotten Victims of America’s Class War https://scheerpost.com/2023/07/30/chris-hedges-the-forgotten-victims-of-americas-class-war/
The Yellow Corp. bankruptcy: A brutal attack on the working class
A Vital Atlantic Ocean System Could Collapse Sooner Than Previously Thought
A video tribute to Daniel Ellsberg
Zelensky: The Selling of a President https://open.substack.com/pub/joebrunoli/p/zelensky-the-selling-of-a-president
Why Capitalism Is Leaving the US in Search of Profit
The Star-Spangled Kangaroo https://www.caitlinjohnst.one/p/the-star-spangled-kangaroo
Dr Jill Stein & Kshama Sawant Join RBN | Building Power Outside The Democrat and Republican Parties
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