Yesterday was the three year anniversary of the last federal minimum wage increase, which brought our lowest earners up to $7.25 per hour. Various unions and social justice organizations held rallies today in major cities all across the country, demanding that the minimum wage be raised to an actual living wage. Ohio alone had three events calling for action in Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo.
The Cleveland rally, organized by the worker’s rights organization Fight For A Fair Economy, took place in front KB Toys, certainly the perfect backdrop considering more than 3,000 jobs were lost when Bain Capital bought the company in 2000. In attendance were Mike Foley, State Rep. for Ohio’s 14th District, as well as an aide from Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s office who is in Washington at this time of year. Both politicians are known as fierce advocates for equal opportunity and progressive values – two shining examples of the representation everyone who isn’t Mitt Romney needs.
Numerous low-wage earners also took part in the event, sharing their own experiences of trying to survive on a wage so low that, without massive overtime and government assistance, will not even keep the roof over their heads. Being one of the speakers, I chose to talk about the opposition to raising the minimum wage and why it strikes me as incredibly short-sighted and downright cruel.
You’ll find it in every comment thread from yesterday’s news – the indignant and fallacious attacks on low-wage earners who dare to speak out and say “I am worth more than $7.25 an hour“. Immediately the conversation is overrun with vitriolic rants that conflate “low-wage” with “low-skilled”, “black” with “lazy”, etc. The following comments, taken fromthe thread posted on WTAM’s Facebook page about the above picture, is just a small taste of the right-wing hysteria surrounding this issue:
“Another business and job killer. If these workers were WORTH $10 an hour, they would be earning it.”
“Look at the person in the picture…enough said..”
“Black and in Parma? No further comment!”
“She makes double that sitting around at home! Why does she care?”
“Well I guess they should try and better themselves so they don’t have to work for 7.25. You don’t have to work for min. wage if you can do better.If you didn’t better yourself that is on you not me and society’s problem.”
“And another thing we should pay you 10 dollars to screw our food up? LOL”
“God forbid she earns a raise!!! Hard work equals better pay. Not being at work on a Tuesday equals unemployment or ghetto retirement”
“Maybe if she put more in the tank and less in her belly she could get to work…LOL”
“Here I have a better idea stay at home cave out about 10 kids by 5 different men.Suck up all the free crap you can.I will get 2 jobs so you can sit on you fat ASS.”
“People don’t like working for minimum wage? Then don’t. Try getting a better job.”
“Then again if she works too many hours she’ll loose some of that government cheese”
“that is too much of a raise, if you don’t like what you make get off your ass and get your resume circulated out there.”
Unbeknownst to these winners, the person in that picture is working. Being a community organizer – which she is – demands plenty of hard work, and certainly doesn’t leave any room for laziness. But that doesn’t fit the right-wing narrative, and any attempt to educate these particular fools will only result in them all running down to their basement to break out their foil hats and assault weapons; leaving us with bruises on our foreheads from head-desking.
But not everyone is so hopeless. We may not hear the moderates, because the extremists tend to drown them out, but they are out there. We can reach them. We can explain.
Low-wage earners can and do possess the work ethics deserving of a fair wage. Take cable technicians, for instance. I’ve always heard that they make quite a decent living for their labor, so when my husband began his training to enter this field, we were very excited and grateful for the opportunity. The median wage for a cable technician in the United States is $24.45 per hour ($50,900 annually), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Ohio, the median wage is $21.07 per hour ($43,800 annually) with the bottom ten percent making at least $11.64. To us, this is a lot of money – well deserved, considering the hard labor cable installations call for - climbing ladders, scaffolding, utility or telephone poles; digging holes or trenches for foundations; install/string electrical or electronic cable or wiring; move or fit heavy objects – and much, much more. Does this sound like low-skilled, easy work to you? Yeah, that’s what I said.
The huge cable corporations don’t hire technicians very often, it appears. At least, not in our area; they hire contractors, the contractors hire employees at a low wage, and those lucky suckers get to do this dangerous and complicated work for chump change. My husband starts work at 7:00am, and makes it home anywhere from 6:00pm – 11:00pm. If he’s lucky, he gets one day off a week. This is how it has to be, if we’re going to keep our utilities on, pay rent, refill prescriptions for my chronic condition, and eat.
As a cable technician, my husband earns Ohio’s minimum wage, which is $7.70 an hour.
Lest you think this is an anomaly, The National Employment Law Project found that 66 percent of low-wage earners are actually employed by large businesses with over 100 employees. This is just something they do, another way to keep the working class at the bottom of the ladder. The GOP and their favorite corporations have the American people scared to death, threatening even more job loss and poverty if the minimum wage was increased. This is demonstrably false, but that’s never been something to deter the conservative right from spreading it around like the plague.
The bottom line: a low-wage is absolutely not indicative of an employee’s value to the company, nor is it an accurate measure of skill. I don’t care if you’re running the drive-thru at McDonald’s – that takes mental, emotional and physical stamina; basically, it takes skill. Anyone who says otherwise is either choking on their silver spoon and has never worked the lunch rush at Wendy’s with only one functioning cash register (!!) like so many of us have, or they’re so pitifully miserable and insecure with their own lives that they need to believe that people who make less money than them somehow deserve to live in poverty.
Confronting the reality that job loss, home loss and other economic hardship can happen to any one of us that isn’t a member of the top 1% is upsetting. Nobody wants that to be true. I get that. But… it is. Really. Stop holding back progress, and help us decrease the chances of this happening to you - Join us in demanding a living wage.
*UPDATE* Tune in to National Public Radio tomorrow morning at 9:00am EST for a discussion on minimum wage with myself and Harriett Applegate, Executive Director of the AFL-CIO Northshore Labor Council.
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