FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Elusive Minimum Wage

by DAVID MACARAY

If you happen to follow the American and international labor scene, and want to kill a leisurely hour, an entertaining way of doing that is to visit the Department of Labor’s (DOL) official website.  It offers a wide selection of labor tidbits, explanations of bureaucratic procedures, helpful tips, advice for retirees and disabled workers, and summaries of the DOL’s most recent compliance victories.

Ever since Hilda Solis (President Obama’s first-term Secretary of Labor) resigned the position, Seth Harris has been filling in as acting Secretary, pending confirmation of Thomas Perez, President Obama’s hand-picked nominee.  If this were the 1970s, Perez’s confirmation would be a foregone conclusion.  After all, the man has exemplary qualifications; there would be no reason to oppose him.

But because the right-wing has so effectively hijacked the political middle, and has built up an impressive head of steam, the Perez hearings could get very ugly.  In fact, the only thing standing in the way of an aggressive, full-court press by congressional Republicans is their understandable fear of alienating the Latino vote in 2016.  If they get too nasty with Mr. Perez, 2016 could turn out to be Romney Redux.

Bearing the Department of Labor’s official seal, the DOL site is a combination of office newsletter (chatty, helpful, people-oriented) and standard business “mission statement” (a no-nonsense reminder of what the organization is all about).  One of its features is an explanation of the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act), the law that established the federal minimum wage (which, today, stands at $7.25 per hour).

For decades there has been an outcry from conservative lobbyists (e.g., U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, etc.) and their Republican minions, demanding repeal of the minimum wage, arguing that it impedes growth, contributes to unemployment, and results in hundreds of small businesses—the backbone of the U.S. economy—going belly-up each year.

While that claim makes for good propaganda, the numbers don’t support it.

Besides the fact that $7.25 is a pitifully meager wage to pay your employees (if you honestly cannot afford $7.25/hour, should you really own a business?)—and besides the fact that the federal minimum doesn’t increase automatically with the cost of living, but requires an act of Congress to raise it even 10-cents (and we know how malleable Congress has been lately)—the number of exemptions to the federal minimum wage is positively staggering.

It’s true.  Some of those exemptions:  workers with disabilities (any disability), full-time students, apprentices, companions for the elderly, farmworkers, fishermen, newspaper deliverers, waiters and waitresses, and switchboard operators.  As for the tiny businesses those lobbyists are trying to “protect,” the minimum wage exempts any enterprise with less than $500,000 per year in sales or business.  These are only some of the exemptions.  Check out the website for more.

Another interesting exemption:  It’s legal to pay a person $4.25/hour for a period of 90 days, provided that person is younger than age 20.  Unfortunately, labor unions have long been aware of unscrupulous companies who hire recent high school grads (age 18-19), keep them on the payroll for 90 days, then replace with them with a new batch of 18-year olds.  It’s a sweet loophole.  It’s legal.  It’s free enterprise.

My one beef with the DOL is its unwillingness to give credit to the only institutional organization in the history of the U.S. dedicated exclusively to improving the economic lives of working people—i.e., labor unions.  Indeed, you hardly ever see any mention of unions on their website.

While the DOL is clearly pro-worker, pro-disabled, pro-minority, and pro-international rights, they’re terrified of the political backlash that would likely result were they to give a well-earned shout-out to organized labor.  Say again?  Bureaucrats lacking the moral courage to speak the truth to power?  Shocking.

David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor” 2nd edition), was a former union rep. Macaray’s article on the history of Major League Baseball’s powerful players’ union appears in the May issue of CounterPunch magazine.  dmacaray@earthlink.net

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
David Price
Rogue Elephant Rising: The CIA as Kingslayer
Matthew Stevenson
Is Trump the Worst President Ever?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Flynn?
John Wight
Brexit and Trump: Why Right is Not the New Left
Diana Johnstone
France: Another Ghastly Presidential Election Campaign; the Deep State Rises to the Surface
Neve Gordon
Trump’s One-State Option
Roger Harris
Emperor Trump Has No Clothes: Time to Organize!
Joan Roelofs
What Else is Wrong with Globalization
Andrew Levine
Why Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban?
Mike Whitney
Blood in the Water: the Trump Revolution Ends in a Whimper
Vijay Prashad
Trump, Turmoil and Resistance
Ron Jacobs
U.S. Imperial War Personified
David Swanson
Can the Climate Survive Adherence to War and Partisanship?
Andre Vltchek
Governor of Jakarta: Get Re-elected or Die!
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Destruction of Mosul
Norman Pollack
Self-Devouring Reaction: Governmental Impasse
Steve Horn
What Do a Louisiana Pipeline Explosion and Dakota Access Pipeline Have in Common? Phillips 66
Brian Saady
Why Corporations are Too Big to Jail in the Drug War
Graham Peebles
Ethiopia: Peaceful Protest to Armed Uprising
Luke Meyer
The Case of Tony: Inside a Lifer Hearing
Binoy Kampmark
Adolf, The Donald and History
Robert Koehler
The Great American Awakening
Murray Dobbin
Canadians at Odds With Their Government on Israel
Fariborz Saremi
A Whole New World?
Joyce Nelson
Japan’s Abe, Trump & Illegal Leaks
Christopher Brauchli
Trump 1, Tillerson 0
Yves Engler
Is This Hate Speech?
Dan Bacher
Trump Administration Exempts Three CA Oil Fields From Water Protection Rule at Jerry Brown’s Request
Richard Klin
Solid Gold
Melissa Garriga
Anti-Abortion and Anti-Fascist Movements: More in Common Than Meets the Eye
Thomas Knapp
The Absurd Consequences of a “Right to Privacy”
W. T. Whitney
The Fate of Prisoner Simón Trinidad, as Seen by His U. S. Lawyer
Brian Platt
Don’t Just Oppose ICE Raids, Tear Down the Whole Racist Immigration Enforcement Regime
Paul Cantor
Refugee: the Compassionate Mind of Egon Schwartz
Norman Richmond
The Black Radical Tradition in Canada
Barton Kunstler
Rallying Against the Totalitarian Specter
Judith Deutsch
Militarism:  Revolutionary Mothering and Rosie the Riveter
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir Evoked a Lot More International Attention in the 1950s Than It Does Now
Adam Phillips
There Isn’t Any There There
Louis Proyect
Steinbeck’s Red Devils
Randy Shields
Left Coast Date: the Dating Site for the ORWACA Tribe
Charles R. Larson
Review: Bill Hayes’ “Insomniac City”
David Yearsley
White Supremacy and Music Theory
February 16, 2017
Peter Gaffney
The Rage of Caliban: Identity Politics, the Travel Ban, and the Shifting Ideological Framework of the Resistance
Ramzy Baroud
Farewell to Doublespeak: Israel’s Terrifying Vision for the Future
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail