Bricks and Mortars

Let 'em eat cake

By Lawrence Reichard | Sep 16, 2016

According to Mike Tipping, communications director for the Maine People's Alliance, the National Restaurant Association is helping to fund the campaign against Question 4, a November ballot referendum to increase Maine's minimum wage. Meanwhile, according to the restaurant association's own IRS 990 tax reports, NRA Chief Executive Officer Dawn Sweeney made $2.895 million in 2014, the last year for which records are publicly available. Never mind the 1 percent; that lands her squarely in the 99.9 percentile.

In other words, Sweeney, who makes fully 185 times what a full-time minimum-wage worker earns, is telling minimum-wage workers they should suck it up and sacrifice their financial well-being and standard of living for the greater good. Nice.

But it gets worse. Like many states, Maine has a two-tiered minimum wage — tipped workers are guaranteed only $3.75 per hour. Dawn Sweeney makes 370 times that amount. Good gig if you can get it.

One might almost think that someone who makes almost $3 million a year might have the decency not to begrudge a modest living wage for minimum-wage workers trying to eke out an existence on $15,600 a year. But apparently one would be wrong.

Here in Maine the Let 'Em Eat Cake syndrome is a little less pronounced. Here we have the Maine Heritage Policy Center and the Maine Restaurant Association taking aim at Maine's lowest-paid workers by opposing Question 4. In 2013, the last year for which public records are available, then MHPC Chief Executive Officer Scott Moody made $105,000. That's a mere seven times what is earned by those the MHPC is spending good money to keep in indentured servitude. And in the same year, 2013, the president and CEO of the Maine Restaurant Association made $107,000, again about seven times what minimum-wage workers have to feed their families.

The federal minimum wage is set at $7.25 per hour, and Maine is slightly ahead of that at $7.50 an hour. Maine's homegrown opponents of raising the minimum wage love to point out that Maine's minimum wage is already above the federal level. Seriously. I'm not making this up. As if 25 cents an hour makes some sort of meaningful difference. Safe to say they're heroically scraping the very bottom of the arguments barrel with that one.

The federal minimum wage hasn't gone up since 2009. And here's a statistic I absolutely love: between 1997 and 2007 the federal minimum wage didn't increase at all, but members of Congress, who set the federal minimum wage, raised their own pay seven times. Apparently what is good for the goose is not good for the gander. Current congressional salaries stand at $174,000 — more than 11 times the minimum wage. But who's going to begrudge them that when they're doing such a grand job representing the interests of working people?

Purchasing power of the minimum wage peaked in 1968. According to the Maine People's Alliance, if that rate had kept pace with inflation, it would now be $11 per hour — and I have seen estimates as high as $14 per hour. MPA further says minimum wage would be at $22 per hour if it had kept pace with improvements in productivity, and $33 if it had kept pace with the income of 1-percenters. In other words, since 1968, the minimum wage has lost at least a third of its value, and since 1968 almost all benefits from increased productivity have gone to the 1 percent.

As I have written before, the working poor live their lives lurching from crisis to crisis. Their children grow up in a near-constant state of chaos and crisis. This is the life of millions of this country's working poor. Imagine your family income taking a 33-percent hit. Now imagine you started at the bottom and then took a 33-percent hit.

So that's the justice and fairness issue. But there are also good, solid economic reasons for hiking the minimum wage. The rich tend to squirrel away their money — one can consume only so much caviar and champagne — but the working poor spend it, and that stimulates the economy.

Like most opponents of raising the minimum wage, Maine Heritage Policy Center claims that hiking the minimum wage will hurt small businesses, but the MHPC website statement on the issue cites no data to back up the claim. An Aug. 24 Bangor Daily News op-ed by Preston Cooper of the Manhattan Institute likewise cites no data to back its claim that hiking the minimum wage would hurt teen employment — as if teen employment were somehow more important than adult employment. Cooper argues for a two-tiered minimum with teens earning less, but he fails to mention that this puts downward pressure on all wages.

Maine People's Alliance says Question 4 will help small businesses, because Maine small businesses pay higher wages than their bigger counterparts, and raising the minimum wage would create a more level playing field. According to the Portland Press Herald, Maine small businesses pay an average of $12.72 per hour, while big business pays only $10.07. That's largely why more than 500 Maine small businesses support Question 4.

The level playing field argument begs the question: Whose interests are really being represented by the Maine Heritage Policy Center, the National Restaurant Association and the Maine Restaurant Association? Is it small business owners and restaurateurs who want to pay their workers a living wage? Or is it big, out-of-state chains whose fierce competition drives down wages and cripples the ability of small businesses and restaurants to pay a decent, living wage to their neighbors?

Lawrence Reichard is a first-place Maine Press Association winner, freelance writer and activist. He lives in Belfast.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Patricia Keyes | Sep 16, 2016 09:37

Someone working at McDonald's does not have the responsibility nor the education to warrant $3 million a year. Minimum wage jobs are entry level jobs for teens and people who haven't grabbed a dream and gotten the education to fulfill it. I could go on for hours about how the govt is tampering with parental rights to allow their interested and able children to rake lawns, sweep store floors, and stock shelves for $2/hr before they grow past the developmental age where they are actually interested in work. The child labor laws today keep children dependent on their parents for money too long, and by the time they're 14, and have to beg the school superintendent's office for "permission" to work 6 hours a week, they're just as content to sit on their parent's couch and play video games!  If there were more PARENT-directed kids out doing something useful with their time, and learning how money works, and how banks, lawyers, insurance companies and politicians STEAL their wages, we wouldn't be in this pickle.  If employers were able to employ people, who were willing to work at the MUTUALLY agreed on rate, without political meddling, children would be learning work ethic again instead of video games and fantasy football, and more and more small businesses could grow to offer a family-supporting wage for more and more adults. Suddenly, even moderately educated OR APPRENTICED adults would have the chance to advance in the workplace, and eventually leave employment to start new businesses that could hire more and more people!

Right now, our public schools are churning our EMPLOYEES,  NOT thoughtful, intelligent, adaptive future business owners. Our public schools are overrun with socialist policies that put all the money in administrators' pockets, and we can't even get books with source documents for our kids to read. There isn't a thing in Common Core or Maine Standards that allows for kids to look at the actual words of historical figures and decide for themselves what history means. The modern social studies books are all essentially crap, revisionist opinion from Woodrow Wilson!  He's the guy who created the FED and has us enslaved to European bankers now. And you want to perpetuate his grevious errors?

Envy is not a reason to denigrate people or try to pull them down. All negative emotions can be turned and used to challenge us to work harder and smarter to achieve the things in life we find good, useful, uplifting, and encouraging. Envy that turns to active hatred of others is evil. Envy nursed and coddled turns to theft and murder.
 Passive engagement in your own life is unacceptable. It is a side effect of too much TV watching. Whining about it to everyone, and expecting the govt to FIX their problems is unacceptable childish behavior. Each person has a life and they each have the responsibility to consider how they live, choose what they like, and pursue it, WITHOUT blaming everyone around them for their unwillingness to improve or hunt for the things they need to achieve their goals.

All an increased minimum wage will do, in this climate of crushing business regulation created by desk jockeys and pencil-pushing weenies who don't know our specialties and our needs, is bring in push-button order pads for customers, and end minimum wage jobs for the young and the desperate entirely.

You talk about people down on their luck blown from crisis to crisis, but it is meddling socialist policies like this that CAUSE the problems. Force businesses to carry insurance to defend themselves from "accident & injury" and there's no money left for paying their employees. They can't hire folks with partial disabilities because they represent a legal/financial risk CREATED by the insurance industry.  What ever happened to people putting a Band-Aid on it and getting on with their day? Whatever happened to kindness and decency and holding the door for those in need, without having to be asked???

Maine People's Alliance took $1.2 million out-of-state dollars to put the increased Clean Election rates on the ballot last year.  Now we have to pay, from our own pockets here in Maine, $1 million to any person running for governor if they run a Clean Election Campaign. How does THAT lower our taxes?  You do know that the govt DOESN'T HAVE ANY MONEY, right?  That money you think is so easy to throw around came from MY WORK, MY POCKET.  I don't want to pay for more signs and postcards blowing down the street!  And you want us to listen to them for wise governance?  No Mainer wanted that referendum. It was paid for by George Soros, The Tides Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, the Proteus Group, etc funneled through the Maine People's Alliance.  Stop buying our state.  Stop tampering in our politics!

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