Gary Anderson

Gary Anderson

Who’s afraid of a wage increase?

According to those forces opposing a hike in Maine’s minimum wage it should be anyone at the lowest income rung who cares about keeping their business essential but financially unrewarding job. If the minimum wage is raised, employers will have no choice but to reduce the number of employees. If two positions at $7.50 an hour are mandated to $15.00 an hour, one of those positions will be eliminated. Sure, one of the employees benefits, but the other will be sacrificed. Simple math. Simple indeed.

An even more alarmist scenario is that if “human resources” are mandated into becoming an even more profit reducing component of overhead, investment will be made towards replacing workers with machines. Look around. It has already begun. That ATM machine used to be a human teller. Those self-checkout machines at the grocery store portend a future devoid of all human retail sales interaction. That slippery slope will only become steeper faster if Mainers make the perilous decision to vote yes on Question 4 this November.

A third argument against providing workers with the dignity of a basic living wage is that it will drive existing businesses from Maine and dissuade new businesses from setting up shop here in Vacationland. This argument would have one believe that suppressed wage workers are the make or break criteria for business success even at a national or international corporate level. Goodbye Lowe’s. So long Molnlycke. No mention that most Maine businesses aren’t transportable and many are intrinsically tied to Maine’s geographical uniqueness.

Then there’s the worry concerning Question 4’s inclusion of tipped workers, that their sub-minimum wage will eventually have parity with non-tipped employment. Progressive attempts to improve basic employment compensation for labor rendered will strip tipped workers of a gratuity compensation that actually surpasses any salary their employer could provide.

That assertion may be true when reflecting the most generous gratuities on very upscale hospitality charges, but such scenarios don’t represent bread and butter eateries or address those workers enslaved by an ubiquitous fast-food industry that’s already eliminated tipped service and remains plenty profitable.

With new comprehensive livable wages suddenly gratuity rewards would actually become gratuitous and, therefore, tipping would cease altogether.

I somehow doubt that argument’s validity, but who knows? The gratuity system makes little real sense in its arbitrary practice of which jobs are included and which aren’t. Suddenly, wait staff and bartenders would be relegated to the ranks of kitchen help who’ve always somehow been employed without a gratuity offset or enhancement.

The professed concern for minimum wage workers by those opposing a long overdue cost of living increase, and basic economic justice, is remarkable in its omission of that reality and otherwise acknowledging how unfair things actually are for hard-working people just trying to stay afloat.

Find a big box still attempting self check-out stations. Not Many. Check out those supermarket “customer friendly” “express lanes.” Try self-checking your luggage and confirming your flight. I still opt for saving time through a traditional low-tech human encounter rather than awaiting human assistance to untangle the interface between technological “convenience” and the reality of a frustratingly endless “intuitive” learning curve failure. If businesses ever seriously replace human assistance most consumers will simply shop elsewhere. Roger’s Hardware and Brackett’s Market will be even more treasured than they are now.

Opposition to raising Maine’s minimum wage sounds all too similar to the disingenuous assertion that workers’ compensation and OSHA regulations actually harm workers by requiring excessive business costs that otherwise would arguably go to improving workers’ take-home pay.

Passage of Question 4 will increase Maine’s current $7.50 minimum wage to $9 by 2017, then $1 a year until it reaches $12 by 2020. After that it will be indexed to cost of living increases. Tipped workers’ current sub-minimum wage of $3.75 an hour would rise to $5 in 2017, then increase a dollar a year until eventually matching the minimum wage in 2024.

Unfortunately, labor is essentially the only part of a business’s overhead, especially small businesses, that can readily be controlled. Utilities, rent, taxes, supply and maintenance costs keep rising without regard to the bottom line. Businesses wishing to better compensate their employees risk a competitive disadvantage. However, if all businesses are required to better compensate their employees, that disadvantage is removed from the equation.

That cost will be passed on to the consumer as just another across the board aspect of doing business. Many businesses want to better reward their employees. Raising the minimum wage would allow them that opportunity without penalty. Progressive businesses, large or small, realize that better worker compensation creates better workplace morale, attracts and retains more engaged employees and ultimately leads to better productivity and increased profitability.

When voting on Question 4, imagine yourself the hard working recipient of such a long overdue pay raise. Consider whether employment compensation should or should not adequately accommodate the basic level of economic need of workers participating in a capitalist society premised on the fundamental belief that liberty, happiness and dignity are the inherent rewards of honest labor.

Gary Anderson lives in Bath.

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