Do you Feel Minimum?

September, 2015

Do you feel minimum? What is minimum? The dictionary defines it as "the least possible amount." Is that the amount of money you should be making at work? I don't feel like a "minimum." And I don't like the term. Do you? How about the term decent wage? Or how about livable wage? All of these terms are confusing as all things in life are relative. What is a livable wage? When Donald Trump famously went bankrupt one of several times years back, the banks determined that he needed $30,000 a month to live on at his current and accustomed lifestyle. Donald DuPay doesn't need quite that much money to live on comfortably. I like the term decent wage the most. It seems more realistic and fairer, somehow.

Many words evoke a mental image, a picture in your mind. What comes to mind when you see the words hotel maid? What comes to mind when I use the term minimum wage employee? Do you see a pimply teenager behind the counter at McDonald's? Do you see a brown-skinned person speaking English as a second language? Do you see an older person, an adult, bent over and past sixty? The truth is, many minimum wage employee's today are middle-aged and much older folks willing to work in fast food restaurants because they cannot afford to retire, and are in their fourth or fifth "career choice." This is essential not just supplemental income in many cases. Do you see those people in your mental image? Do they come to mind?

The term minimum is in many ways a classist term that evokes negative imagery. It does so because it seems that one group is looking down on a group they consider lessor than themselves. The term minimum is by its very nature, elitist. It says “I can't get mine if I give you yours.” It says "I need two cars but you can’t have one." It says "I must have money to pay my bills and to get braces for my kid’s teeth." It also says "I don’t care about you or your bills or your kid’s teeth."

It says "I so don’t care about you that I can legally avoid paying you any benefits by keeping your working hours at thirty nine hours a week, instead of the historically accepted forty hours per week." Minimum is the Walmart-Mc Donald’s business plan. It also says employees are expensive, but a business expense to be kept at a minimum. It says you are not human; you are just an expensive object, basically a robot, inhuman and non-sentient. Punch in on time please and punch out on time too, but don’t dare ask for a livable wage.

Minimum wage is corporations’ way of dehumanizing the time clock robots that they think we are.

I suggest that if a small business cannot afford to pay its employee's a decent wage then they should not have employees to trample on in the first place. They should not be in business. Big business can afford to pay a decent wage, but they don’t. They don’t because those at the top enjoy more perks, and more wealth when they underpay those at the bottom of the employment food chain.

“There are people that care about people and people who don’t care” says Rachael Maddow, host of the MSNBC Rachel Maddow show. I believe she is correct. Big corporations just don’t care. They don’t have to care. They have that power.

We hear a lot about the earning power and benefits from getting an education. Education is the way out of the minimum wage rat race the university administrators tell us. Well, yes, better educated people statistically do earn slightly more money in their lifetime, and better educated people are a benefit to themselves and those around them in many other ways too. But is an expensive degree, a master’s degree or a doctorate actually worth the time, hard work and enormous cost when so many university professors still continue to live below the poverty line?!

My wife Theresa, has a master’s degree and is $131,000 in debt, and will likely spend the rest of her life paying that debt off. Simply because she wanted and needed to get an education. Look at it this way. Colleges and Universities are a business. Their product is education. Their customers are students. The laborers are adjuncts. Administrators are the CEO's. As a business, the top few keep the bottom few at minimum wage and this pattern is becoming more and more accepted, as more professors are denied tenure and more women professors are passed over for male professors for tenure. Too many adjunct professors are paid so inadequately they qualify for food stamps and other benefits that generally are given to poverty-stricken people. The ideology of these American corporations and universities seem to say...if I share equally with you then I as the administrator won’t get as much.

The top few get the big money because the bottom few are kept at low wages. My step daughter, Amelia, worked for over two years at Portland’s Café Yumm on SW 4th and Morrison Street. Her employers allowed Amelia and their other employees to often work only 38-39 hours a week so they, the employers would not have to pay benefits. This practice  became commonplace in the early 1990s and in some companies, like Café Yumm, it continues and as a result, their employees continue to struggle, live in poverty and are denied medical and dental benefits. Where is the morality or the justice in a company knowingly allowing employees to work for only 38 or 39 hours per week solely so they can deny their employee's benefits?

In the university business, adjunct professors are offered three-month term contracts that must be renewed each term. Neither fast food employees nor adjunct professors can ever be happy employees living with such felt jeopardy and uncertainty. They are always on the edge because of income insecurity. Will they be hired next term? Will they not be hired next term? They are on the edge of losing their tiny studio and one bedroom apartments, as they live paycheck to paycheck. They are on the edge because they do not eat regularly or have the money to buy quality food or produce. They are living on the edge; with their masters and their doctorate degrees gathering dust on a wall somewhere.

In this unsettling employment environment, worker's wonder what will happen if they get sick? What will happen if they lose their job? What will happen if they can’t pay the rent? My question is, how can we maintain an insecure population of minimum wage earners, whether at Walmart or at our local university, and expect our country to grow economically, culturally and socially?

This is a moral and a social issue. We have a moral obligation to fight for better working conditions for an insecure population of the minimum people in our midst every day. Our friends, our coworkers, our neighbors and our family members.
I am a full-time undergraduate student at Portland State University, in Portland Oregon, and my university is a prime and disgusting example of employment inequity in how it treats it's adjunct professors. In an editorial I wrote in 2014, which was published in The Spectrum, a University authorized magazine, entitled “Let Them Eat Tuition,”  

I noted that university president Wim Weiwel collects the enormous annual salary of $540,000, plus a free luxury residence in a fine neighborhood, and a $750. 00 monthly car allowance. President Weiwel’s office is not located on PSU campus (thus further isolating him from students and faculty) but elsewhere, several miles away from PSU campus. His robot minions, the adjunct professors that actually teach students, get their one term contracts and are paid about $39.000 annually if they get their contracts renewed. 
The lesson here tells anyone interested enough to examine the issue, or any Education major, that your degree in education may be essentially worthless when the time comes for you to seek employment. It also states loud and clear that there is certainly no money in teaching. The real money in education is in administration. And administrators don’t teach.

Thank you university president Wim Wiewel for a lesson well taught and being an example of greed and elitist indifference. No wonder you're always smiling, your life is set. Sadly, the people who provide the PRODUCT for the university, their lives are NOT set.

By Don DuPay