Frisky Rant: If You Pay Your Employees Crap, Have The Decency To Stand By It

One of the big news items yesterday was the story of a woman who was fired from her job at a Days Inn after she spoke to the Washington Post about what it’s like living on minimum wage, despite the fact that it was her employer who told her to speak to the reporter in the first place.

I have some feelings on this. 

To begin with, the fact that it is now the societal norm for people to not discuss their salaries and wages is absolute bullshit. You know what the point of that is? To allow business owners to take advantage of everyone’s ignorance and pay people as little as possible. To keep things peaceful by there not being any conflict over who gets paid more. No one should be under any obligation, ever, to protect someone who is taking advantage of them. That’s messed up.

The reason they’re able to get away with so much is because people feel as though not being paid a decent amount is more shameful for them than for their employer, and because they’re afraid of losing their jobs. This, you see, is why we used to have unions.

The Lily Ledbetter act was implemented to counteract a lot of that bullshit, and to ensure that women were getting paid equally by prohibiting employers from firing employees for discussing their wages.

But here’s my problem with the incident from yesterday, and other incidents like it. Clearly, the motel owner had no moral issue with paying Shanna Tippen the minimum wage, nor was he too embarrassed to do so. Unless he was completely daft, he had to have been aware that this was not a livable wage.

If you’re not too embarrassed to pay your employee the minimum wage, or any amount, really, then you forfeit the right to be embarrassed by other people finding out about it. It is not the responsibility of the employee to protect you and your good name by lying about their circumstances. If you can’t afford to pay your employees a wage you would feel OK about them disclosing, then maybe you don’t get to have employees.

If you think it is perfectly fine to pay your employees the minimum wage, which, yes, it is your legal right to do, then say so. Have out with it. “I’m here, I’m paying my employees the absolute least I can possibly pay them and if given the option I would probably pay them less, get used to it!” If you’re going to do anything in life, I say do it with pride.

It’s going to be an uphill battle for worker’s rights in this country–anti-union sentiment runs strong, and there is a lot of opposition to the minimum wage existing, period, nevermind raising it. Personally–I think the absolute most effective means of achieving these goals in the time being is to shame the living hell out of employers that do not pay a fair wage or who treat workers poorly.

It was only after Walmart and other retailers were shamed out of paying their workers the minimum wage that they agreed to increase it. This is a solid tactic, and it works a hell of a lot faster than trying to go through the traditional means of begging the government to increase it for us. If they want to use “the free market” as an excuse to screw workers, then I have no problem using it against them to ensure that workers are paid and treated fairly.

In 1912, the state of Massachusetts shortened the amount of hours employees could work from 56 hours to 54 hours–and in response, the textile mills in the area cut the pay of their already poorly compensated employees, most of whom were immigrants. This led to a strike that lasted for nearly the entire winter of that year. The thing that finally caused the mills to back down and offer their workers a 5% pay increase? It wasn’t just organizing. It wasn’t just the strike. It was sending the children of textile workers to New York to be taken care of by supporters of the strike. When people saw those children arriving by the truck full, or saw pictures of them doing so, in their tattered clothes and hungry faces, and summarily shamed the crap out of the textile mills, that was what got them the deal.

They didn’t want to be known for being the reason these kids were impoverished.

800px-Lawrence-kids-1912

While it would certainly be nice for the government to raise the minimum wage to a living wage, there are ways to achieve this without them.

It is incredibly unfortunate that Shanna Tippen has lost her job over this, and I very much hope she finds a better job with an employer who is less of a dick–but I think it’s clear that the real loser in this situation is the motel owner, who has Streisand Effect-ed himself into the national spotlight and is now famous for being an asshole.

I hope this serves as a message to employers across the country. If you’re going to pay your employees the minimum wage, then have the balls to stand by it. Otherwise, pay them more. If you would be embarrassed for anyone to find out what your employees make, pay them more. If you find it embarrassing that your workers are living in poverty, don’t pay them poverty wages. Their job is to work for you, not to pretend that they’re not poor. Let’s face it, you’re not paying them enough for that.