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Charlie Vignola: The bare minimum

Posted: February 4, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 4, 2014 2:00 a.m.

Republicans think they get unfairly labeled as the party of the wealthy, a party that tricks working-class voters into voting against their own economic self-interest by exploiting cultural wedge issues.

But if Republicans don’t like that reputation, you’d think they’d work a little harder to dispel this belief.

The only problem is nearly every piece of legislation they come up with seems designed to reinforce this “stereotype.”

They’re for tort reform, against class-action lawsuits and want caps on malpractice judgments, all legislation that would benefit corporations and hobble honest consumers with legitimate gripes.

They’re against extending unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed, treating them like freeloaders rather than hard-working Americans who caught a tough break and are facing one of the toughest job markets in generations.

They’re against unions, one of the last remaining bulwarks left to counter-balance corporate greed, and have taken steps to weaken such organizations at every opportunity, eroding the concept of collective bargaining so that it’s every worker for himself or herself.

They vote to cut tens of billions of dollars from SNAP, the food stamp program, literally taking food out of the mouths of millions of hungry American children.

They’re forever trying to cut Social Security benefits for elderly Americans, if not get rid of the program outright and privatize it, turning it from a guaranteed insurance program to one vulnerable to the vagaries of a boom-and-bust market.

They’re against insurance programs covering reproductive health benefits like contraception and abortion, which would predominately punish low-income women who’d find themselves having babies they don’t want and can’t afford.

They fight tooth and nail against common-sense financial regulations that would keep banks from becoming too big to fail and curb Wall Street’s irresponsible risk-taking, yet they make it harder and harder for desperateAmericans to declare bankruptcy.

They’re against environmental regulations despite continuing corporate negligence that causes fertilizer plants to explode and destroy towns and chemical facilities to leak and contaminate drinking water for 300,000 people.

One of the biggest Republican affronts to working-class Americans is the party members’ constant refusal to raise the minimum wage, which affects about 1.6 million workers.

It’s gotten to the point where an exasperated President Obama decided last week to issue an executive order to raise the minimum wage for new federal contract workers, hoping to set an example and perhaps encourage more action and attention on the issue.

Republicans rail against raising the minimum wage, claiming that it will be a “job killer” — a scare tactic used as their fallback claim against any policy position they don’t like.

Their ironclad evidence of this assertion? Good luck finding it.

Today, the most comprehensive research shows little evidence of job reductions from raising the minimum wage.

For example, a 2013 survey by the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business revealed that leading economists agreed by a nearly 4 to 1 margin that the benefits of raising and indexing the minimum wage outweigh the costs.

Republicans claim raising the minimum wage will unduly hurt small businesses, but an analysis of Census Bureau data finds that roughly 66 percent of low-wage workers are employed by large companies with more than 100 employees, not mom-and-pop stores.

Further, the largest low-wage employers — like Walmart and McDonalds — are hugely profitable and can easily afford higher wages.

One need look no further than the mega-successful Costco to see that paying your workers more is just smart business.

As Costco CEO Craig Jelinek said last March, “We pay a starting hourly wage of $11.50 in all states where we do business, and we are still able to keep our overhead costs low.

“An important reason for the success of Costco’s business model is the attraction and retention of great employees. Instead of minimizing wages, we know it’s a lot more profitable in the long term to minimize employee turnover and maximize employee productivity, commitment and loyalty.”

The Center for Economic & Policy Research recently reported that if the minimum wage had kept pace with workers’ productivity growth since the late ‘60s, the minimum wage would be $16.54 in modern dollars.

What this means is that American corporations have seen fit to keep all of the gains for themselves and have stiffed their workers for all their efforts.

Incidentally, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the states with the highest proportions of workers earning at or below the minimum wage are Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas and Idaho.

Guess which party all of these states voted for in the last presidential election?

Republicans suggest we abolish the minimum wage all together and let the free market do its magic. While this would be a boon for corporate America — hell, Domino’s would be ecstatic if it could hire two workers for the price of one — it’d be a crappy deal for American workers.

America’s hardest-working, least-respected and lowest-paid workers are long overdue for a raise — and if the GOP doesn’t think they deserve one, then the GOP doesn’t deserve their vote.

Charlie Vignola is a former college Republican turned liberal Democrat. He lives in Fair Oaks Ranch, works in the motion picture industry and loves his wife and kids.



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