Wednesday, June 21, 2006


When I leave work every weekday evening, I end up listening to the public radio show Marketplace. There are usually a couple of interesting features included in the half-hour programme, and one Tuesday especially had me smiling. Labour consultant and author Beth Shulman, a former vice-president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, had a great commentary on the need to raise the minimum wage. A House committee voted last week to raise the wage from the present $5.15 an hour to $7.25, and the Senate could possibly begin debate on the issue today.

Ms. Shulman's comments, I felt, were so good they were worth copying here:

No doubt corporations face market pressures and have to fight to stay competitive. But they've also got a choice about how they respond to that pressure.

Instead of paying low wages and few benefits, companies can raise productivity and lower turnover by investing in training and paying their workers decently.

Some do. By looking after their workers and their communities, industry leaders like Costco, Cingular and Harley Davidson are profitable.

But most corporations choose the low road. They rationalize their behavior by insisting that they have to cut wages, shrink benefits and lay off workers because the law makes them do it.

After all, they say, companies can only act in their shareholders' interest. Except, actually, it isn't true.

A close look at American law shows that managers have the discretion to act in their overall company's interest, even if that doesn't lead to immediate shareholder gains.

There are no laws on the books that say managers must act exclusively in the interests of shareholders.

In the last quarter-century, more than half the states in our country have enacted statutes that specifically authorize managers to attend to the interests of stakeholders. Read: workers, customers, and creditors, not just shareholders.

The shareholder-interests-above-all myth shields managers as they shred the social contract that once bound companies to their employees and communities.

Don't be fooled. We all work hard. We deserve to sit at the table to help set the terms that ensure work provides the basics of a decent life.

Over 80 percent of Americans support raising the minimum wage. At today's $5.15 an hour, it takes working 11 hours just to fill a car's tank with gas.

I say we can do better than that and jump-start the economy while we're at it. We can raise the minimum wage at the state and federal level and index it to inflation. It's the right thing to do.

I say: Carry on, sister!


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