Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! CounterPunch is entirely supported by our readers. Your donations pay for our small staff, tiny office, writers, designers, techies, bandwidth and servers. We don’t owe anything to advertisers, foundations, one-percenters or political parties. You are our only safety net. Please make a tax-deductible donation today.
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 “Nightshift: 270 Factory Stories.” He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
September 30, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Henry Giroux
Thinking Dangerously in the Age of Normalized Ignorance
Stanley L. Cohen
Israel and Academic Freedom: a Closed Book
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Can Russia Learn From Brazil’s Fate? 
Andrew Levine
A Putrid Election: the Horserace as Farce
Mike Whitney
The Biggest Heist in Human History
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Sick Blue Line
Vijay Prashad
In a Hall of Mirrors: Fear and Dislike at the Polls
Alexander Cockburn
The Man Who Built Clinton World
John Wight
Who Will Save Us From America?
W. T. Whitney
When Women’s Lives Don’t Matter
Jeremy Brecher
Dakota Access Pipeline and the Future of American Labor
Binoy Kampmark
Pictures Left Incomplete: MH17 and the Joint Investigation Team
Andrew Kahn
Nader Gave Us Bush? Hillary Could Give Us Trump
Steve Horn
Obama Weakens Endangered Species Act
Dave Lindorff
US Propaganda Campaign to Demonize Russia in Full Gear over One-Sided Dutch/Aussie Report on Flight 17 Downing
John W. Whitehead
Uncomfortable Truths You Won’t Hear From the Presidential Candidates
Ramzy Baroud
Shimon Peres: Israel’s Nuclear Man
Brandon Jordan
The Battle for Mercosur
Murray Dobbin
A Globalization Wake-Up Call
Jesse Ventura
Corrupted Science: the DEA and Marijuana
Andrew Sullivan
The Democratic Plot to Privatize Social Security
Daniel Borgstrom
On the Streets of Oakland, Expressing Solidarity with Charlotte
Marjorie Cohn
President Obama: ‘Patron’ of the Israeli Occupation
Norman Pollack
The “Self-Hating” Jew: A Critique
David Rosen
The Living Body & the Ecological Crisis
W. T. Whitney
When Women’s Lives Don’t Matter
Richard W. Behan
Hillary Clinton and Our Moribund Democracy
Joseph Natoli
Thoughtcrimes and Stupidspeak: Our Assault Against Words
Ron Jacobs
A Cycle of Death Underscored by Greed and a Lust for Power
Kim Nicolini
Long Drive Home
Art Martin
The Matrix Around the Next Bend: Facebook, Augmented Reality and the Podification of the Populace
Andre Vltchek
Failures of the Western Left
Laura Finley
Presidential Debate Recommendations
José Negroni
Mass Firings on Broadway Lead Singers to Push Back
Leticia Cortez
Entering the Historical Dissonance Surrounding Desafinados
Robert J. Burrowes
Gandhi: ‘My Life is My Message’
Charles R. Larson
Queen Lear? Deborah Levy’s “Hot Milk”
September 29, 2016
Robert Fisk
The Butcher of Qana: Shimon Peres Was No Peacemaker
James Rose
Politics in the Echo Chamber: How Trump Becomes President
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Vice Grip on the Presidential Debates
Daniel Kato
Rethinking the Race over Race: What Clinton Should do Now About ‘Super-Predators’
Peter Certo
Clinton’s Awkward Stumbles on Trade
Fran Shor
Demonizing the Green Party Vote
Rev. William Alberts
Trump’s Road Rage to the White House
Luke O'Brien
Because We Couldn’t Have Sanders, You’ll Get Trump
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]