‘Tis the season for labor reform
Some Pittsburg State students may be surprised to learn that Labor Day isn’t just a long weekend and an excuse to party because, hey, why not?
No, Monday, Sept. 2, was at least created with a meaningful observance in mind, and it’s heartening to see renewed sparks of that meaning nationwide in the last week.
At big-box stores like Wal-Mart and fast-food chains like McDonald’s in the region, particularly in Kansas City and St. Louis, workers are saying they’re not going to take this anymore.
These jobs, on which many of our students depend for basic sustenance while they go about their coursework, just don’t pay enough for most to earn a living.
To promote this plight, to send a message that does need to be sent, a lot of these workers have walked off the job. They are exercising one of our most sacred rights: freedom of assembly.
It’s a simple fact: The minimum wage, which governs the baseline compensation level for the bulk of non-tipped service industry jobs, doesn’t serve anybody much of anything.
It’s been raised only 11 times since federal law defined the modern standards of fair compensation in 1978.
In no respect has it kept up with inflation or other costs of basic living, which really means that it has stopped serving its purpose.
The latest increase, which brought the minimum pay to $7.25 an hour, was the first such increase in a decade.
To put things into perspective, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the $2.25 minimum wage of 1978 would now be $10.75 if it had been properly adjusted for inflation.
Caution is warranted
We acknowledge that for too many reasons to properly understand in the space of this article, hiking the minimum wage is something that needs to be done carefully.
While there can (or should be) little doubt that companies like Wal-Mart or The Home Depot can afford to increase entry-level pay, that may not at all be the case for the various “Mom and Pop” stores of Pittsburg.
Southeast Kansas, in particular Crawford County, remains a low-income area relative to the rest of the state.
That climate affects businesses as well as workers, and to ignore the plight of this city’s lifeblood of employers would be folly.
Then there’s the university to consider.
Without any significant changes to Pitt State’s current commitments, tuition and fees both saw hikes for the 2013-2014 year, after the state government cut higher education funding.
Would a sudden requirement for increased funding for on-campus positions, most of which pay minimum wage, make that situation worse? It seems likely.
As a result, the unified standard of minimum wage may need to be rethought.
Still, do something
It’s possible to partly adapt a “from each according to ability, to each according to need,” scheme.
We believe, however, that the same old, same old argument on minimum wage, that any significant hike anywhere kills jobs and makes life unbearable for all employers, ought to be ignored.
The protest, “There is no other way!” ought to apply to the cause for human dignity and basic opportunities for living; it should not be used as an excuse to keep people down.