Many Missouri families are struggling in these tough economic times. Prices are rising on major U.S. commodities such as corn, flour, wheat and gasoline, putting even more stress on already strained budgets of many families. As of December, 9.5 percent of Missourians were unemployed.
That's why I find it odd that Jerry Nolte, a Republican representative from the 33rd District, has chosen not to work on ideas and legislation that can help bring good-paying, career-minded jobs to Missouri but instead has chosen to sponsor legislation to limit the state's minimum wage law, a law that 76 percent of us voted for in 2006.
Apparently the will of the people doesn't matter to Mr. Nolte or his co-sponsors — only the will of his political contributors (many of which are out-of-state, such as BNSF Railway of Fort Worth, Texas, and Comcast of Philadelphia). His argument is that our high-dollar minimum wage detracts from businesses coming to Missouri. Yes, that $7.25 per hour is just too much to be paying employees. After all, you can go to China and find people willing to work for 26 cents per hour.
On the other hand, Henry Ford was famous for paying his workers $5 a day at the turn of the 20th century — a wage that was almost double what others were paying at the time. He thought that he should pay his workers a decent enough wage so they might be able to afford the Model T car they produced. Today, minimum-wage workers are called the "working poor" for a reason — they can't afford to buy the goods that they produce and/or sell.
But Mr.Nolte seems to think that $15,080 per year (before taxes, assuming you work 40 hours a week for all 52 weeks a year at minimum wage) is just way too much to pay employees and must be stopped. The voters, they have told the press, didn't understand what we voted for.
That's right. According to them, the voters just don't have the mental capacity to understand what we are voting for. It doesn't matter if more than three out of four voters across the state said, "Yes, we want this." Mr. Nolte and his crew are going to tell us what is good for us.
That, my friends, is referred to in other countries as dictatorship — the government tells you what the laws will be, regardless of what you have to say.
The claim that if we don't repeal the minimum wage increase, businesses will leave is largely false because the majority of minimum-wage jobs are in service positions — think retail, fast food, restaurants, gas stations. First, those types of businesses can't leave because they must be in close proximity to their customers. Second, those businesses aren't what many of us would think of as gainful employment to begin with. Are we really supposed to believe that if we don't repeal the will of the voters of Missouri, all the quicky marts will just get up and leave overnight?
The people of Missouri stood up in 2006 and collectively said that we have respect for people who make minimum wage, and we want to make sure they have a safety net. We voted overwhelmingly to tie our state's minimum wage to the cost of inflation. Now, Mr. Nolte wants to overturn our vote and cater to big business donors. After all, every dime saved in employment costs is another dime for them.
We cannot allow Missouri — or any other state in this nation — to be turned into a totalitarian state where the will of the people is ignored or dictated to them. We cannot sit idly by and watch the poorest among us have their wages reduced so that corporate multimillionaires and shareholders can earn even more. We cannot — must not — forget that the person behind that counter making minimum wage is a human being as well and deserves respect and to be treated fairly, just like the rest of us. That person could be you or I at any time in our lives.
At a time when our economy is still reeling from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, Mr. Nolte wants to take even more money out of the economy. Don't forget that these minimum wage workers are also consumers — they buy goods and services just like the rest of us. If we decrease their pay, then it affects us all — from less taxes being collected to pay for roads and schools to fewer customers coming into our shops and businesses.
It's time to stand up and remind these politicians that they are here to represent us and not the interests of out-of-state political donors. It's time to let them know that "we, the people" are not going to be silenced and dictated to. It's a race to the bottom, and Missouri — America — is unfortunately winning.
Robert L. Stinnett lives in Boonville.