DAVID ROSMAN: Taking money out of workers' pockets is no solution

Wednesday, January 15, 2014 | 3:00 p.m. CST

The conservative movement has taken a turn for the worse as it continues to fight against the middle class on the federal and state levels. And it is not just corporations versus organized labor, but the Republican Party versus every worker in every industry.

On the federal level, there is Working Families Flexibility Act — H.R. 1406 — a bill co-sponsored by our own Rep. Vicky Hartzler. This proposed law would permit a “worker the option of receiving compensatory time instead of overtime hours worked.” The justification for the law is that “many Americans would prefer spending time with loved ones.”

However, with so many Americans working at or below the poverty level, the time-and-a-half received as a boost to their weekly paycheck would put food on the table, clothes on children’s backs and help pay for those expenses we deal with every day.

In fact, employers are already using this tactic to reduce payroll overhead, along with limiting hours to 37 a week and not permitting overtime while requiring greater output from workers. We can always point to big-box retail stores as glaring examples of limiting time and pay for employees, but many other industries are doing the same.

Closer to home, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and its co-chair, state Sen. Ed Emery, R-Springfield, are working hard to further displace blue-collar and “non-professional’ workers by fighting unions and targeting the employees’ source of income.

This is fair: If one is working in a union shop and receiving benefits negotiated by the union, then that individual needs to pay dues. There is no such thing as a free lunch, regardless of what conservative mantra is this week. In fact, you can thank the unions for giving us the 40-hour work week, paid vacation and sick leave, and a plethora of other benefits that workers enjoy.

However, if Missouri becomes a right-to-work state, wages will be reduced without a corresponding reduction in cost of living. This means more men and women will be living at or below the poverty line, and, if Medicaid expansion is not passed in Missouri, uninsured.

More about the Medicare expansion next week.

Emery does not believe the American worker is worth $50,000 a year. He told one group that, “They couldn't get a job for $25 an hour but they can at $20 because they're worth $20, or they're worth $17, or they're worth $12.” In right-to-work states, the average wage earner makes about $1,500 less annually than in states where unions have had their say.

It has become an “us-versus-them” situation, and Republican legislators are widening the gap. This is not only about the minimum wage earners trying to make ends meet. This is about the dwindling middle class and our ability to survive even on $25.00 an hour. This is about taking money out of the worker’s pockets to be put into … Expansion? Benefits? Modernization? The pockets of the shareholders?

We shop at the big box stores, not because they pay their employees well, but because we need to buy what we can afford. The average wage for the American workers has been stuck at 1990 levels while the price of food, clothing and fuel for our transportation continues to climb.

Henry Ford had the right idea. He paid his employees higher wages than any of the competitors of the time. He provided them with benefits and worked with labor as the business continued to grow.

What happened to his understanding that the worker bee makes the company money? The real movers and shakers of a business are the men and women employed by that business. If they are not happy, if they perceive that their money is being taken away, they will revolt.

It appears that the money saved by lowering pay scales — by denying overtime pay — is not being recycled back into the business. When business neglects its employees with the aid of conservative politicians, we need to revisit the adage: “There is not a company that is unionized that did not deserve it.”

We need to stop legislation that takes money out of the worker’s pocket, whether on a state or federal level. Yes, I would love to spend more time with my family, but not to the benefit of Mr. Scrooge.

David Rosman is an editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics.

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Ellis Smith January 15, 2014 | 9:20 p.m.

"There is always an easy solution to every human problem - neat, plausible and wrong." - H. L. Mencken (1949)

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams January 15, 2014 | 10:41 p.m.

Wait a minute.

First, Dave, you wrote, "This proposed law would permit a “worker the option of receiving compensatory time instead of overtime hours worked.”

Note the words "permit" and "option".

Then, your missive turned into no option at all....companies were forcing it.

So, which is it?

If it's the first, who are you to tell a worker which option he/she should take? What gives YOU that right? Are you saying you know that which is better...for someone else that is NOT you?

If it's the second, then why did you lead your article with something entirely different....a law that involves an option....a freedom of choice, if you will?

I think you have to make up your mind.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith January 16, 2014 | 6:36 a.m.

For the record, while it is correct that Henry Ford was ahead of his time in wages paid to his workers he was also steadfastly to his dying day anti-union, and was also known for blatant anti-Semitism*. Henry's largess in wages was accompanied by assembly line speeds which older workers had severe difficulty keeping up with; if you couldn't keep up, you were put out on the street - literally!

This fact is familiar to those who have studed the American labor movement from the late 19th cebtury to present. Such a person would also be aware that today members of major unions frequently own at least some corporate stocks/bonds, either as individuals or through pension or retirement funds.

As for "free lunches," it's difficult not to notice that how "free" those luches are depends a WHOLE LOT on who actually does pay for them or is forced by government fiat to do so. "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs." Fortunately we still have able people in this country.

*- At least as late as the 1950s many American Jews refused to consider purchase of a Ford, Mercury or Lincoln automoble (I've seen it).

(Report Comment)
John Schultz January 16, 2014 | 9:30 a.m.

My understanding is that Henry Ford paid his workers higher wages so they would not leave and cause him to spend more to retrain their replacements. I doubt the higher pay was from the generosity of his heart.

And Rosman claims that pay will drop if Missouri goes right to work. Because employers will preemptively cut pay on existing employees just because?

I'm not a big union fan, but I think that employees should be able to unionize, that employers can negotiate with the union if they wish, decide if they will accept union representation, and the terms of any contract are not influenced or regulated by the government. Anything else, liberal or conservative, is meddling in private contract matters.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith January 16, 2014 | 10:00 a.m.


I currently live in a right-to-work state, and have lived and worked over the years in states that were and were not. In reality the consequences appear to be mixed rather than absolute*. Actually, some unions here have a fair amount of clout, but they seem to be the same unions that exhibit clout in many other venues.

I've also had experience working in union shops located in countries outside the United States.

I agree whole-heartedly with your comment about collective bargaining: let the primary parties settle matters, and keep others' noses out of it!

*-For some people everything appears to be absolute. It must be wonderful to always be absolute.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams January 16, 2014 | 10:20 a.m.

“They couldn't get a job for $25 an hour but they can at $20 because they're worth $20, or they're worth $17, or they're worth $12.”

Let's do some calculations. What does "worth" mean when it comes to wages? Pretend I pay a worker $25/hour. Now, while the following numbers DO change based upon the particular industry, a good average for salary as a percent of DESIRED gross revenue is ca. 42%. I say "desired" because the remaining 58% includes all other expenses PLUS a profit.****

So, if I take $25/hour and divide that value by 0.42, I get $59.52/hour of revenue I need from that employee to pay ALL expenses in the business plus make a profit sufficient to justify the risk of starting/running the business in the first place.

Again, I have to get $59.52 worth of revenue from that employee to justify retaining his/her employment.

If I don't get that productivity, then that employee is NOT worth $25/hour to me. He/she is worth less that that to the company.

Dave asks, "What happened to his understanding that the worker bee makes the company money?"

What happened is that most employees do not understand how to calculate their own worth to a company.

But, owners/bosses haven't forgotten.

****Of course, the size of this profit is the REAL sticking point with Dave. He thinks whatever it is, it's too large. Well, perhaps that hyperbole, but I've not ever seen him say what IS a fair profit. In fact, I've never heard ANY liberal tell me what's fair on a numerical basis. Let me start this conversation. Dave, if I owned a small business into which I have invested my entire career and treasure (plus some of the bank's money), I expect a 20-25$ of gross revenue and pre-tax profit. I expect this value because I am risking everything. Anything less than that, I would just take the money and do something much less risky without hiring anyone. Five-to-10% will not justify my risk.

Now, it's your turn to comment upon my 20-25% pretax goal.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams January 16, 2014 | 10:30 a.m.

Ellis/John: I do agree with you that primary parties should settle their own affairs, but I do wish the financial markets (stock/bond buyers, including the little guy) would do a better job punishing companies/unions who make poor long-term contract decisions.

Of course, punishment is deferred or neglected because a buyer can get out of a company's stock well before the piper has to be paid for a bad contract decision.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith January 16, 2014 | 2:04 p.m.

It's now time to interject a little levity. I've posted this before.

An infamous cartoon appeared some years ago in a business magzine. We see a factory gate, with a procession of striking workers passing by outside the gate. Each worker carries a sign saying, "PAY US WHAT WE'RE WORTH!"

Just inside the gate is a single person, the factory manager. He too holds up a sign. His sign says, "I CAN'T, THERE'S A MINIMUM WAGE!"

Seems to me we ALL, if we're honest, tend to overestimate our worth - NO EXCEPTIONS. It can easily be as big a problem as some of the other problems being tossed around.

(Report Comment)

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