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Nykole Roche & Adam Corriveau: Northampton’s vitality supported by low-wage workers

To the editor:

Thursday’s Gazette article on the proposed increase in the minimum wage and the sub-minimum wage paid to tipped employees reflects the deep problems in the narrative around low-wage work.

In short, we are always talking about owners’ interests, not those of the workers who have to survive on these wages. Only one minimum wage worker was interviewed for this story, and not a single worker who lives on tips. Are they that difficult to find? How about the person serving your drinks, making your coffee, cooking your meals in a kitchen that is still hot in November? Where are the voices of these workers?

Owners’ voices rang out, though. Unsurprisingly, most of them oppose the increases, or support the part that would impact them the least. Of course Claudio Guerra doesn’t want to pay tipped employees more than $2.63/hour. His focus is his profit margins. He didn’t offer to take a small pay cut to offset minor increases he will pay to employees; he just suggested that patrons will soon pay more for their meals as a result.

The truth is that patrons have been supporting his employees for decades because he — and others like him — won’t pay them a real wage.

And let’s not confuse Guerra’s interests with those of his employees. The servers who keep his many businesses running want to be able to pay the rent, afford childcare and health care, enjoy a fraction of the leisure activities their boss does. Don’t they have this right?

Northampton is a vital part of the Valley in part because of its downtown businesses and not one of them could operate without the thousands of low-wage workers who keep them going. Raising the minimum wage and the wage paid to tipped workers isn’t enough, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Nykole Roche

Adam Corriveau

Northampton

Related

Local businesses react to proposed $3 increase in state minimum wage

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

While supporters of a proposed $3 increase in the state’s minimum wage call it a long-overdue step for low-paid workers, some business owners in the Valley warned Wednesday that such a pay hike could mean higher prices and fewer employment opportunities for college and high school students. The 88-employee work force at Cooper’s Corner and State Street deli and food … 3

Comments
Legacy Comments4

No one wants to be paid a penny less than they can possibly be paid. And no one wants to pay a penny more than than have to pay. This is human nature. It's universal. True at a tag sale. True in a labor market. That result is many people are working for "low" wages. Today in Northampton. And historically and globally. Changing that is a very slow process. I would venture that Northampton's lowest-wage workers are no worse off than their counterparts throughout history or in similar affluent western-world communities. If you think that piously admonishing small business owners in Northampton is a good way to contribute to positive change, locally or glabally, i beg to differ with you. Let's stop beating up on Northampton's small business owners. It's tiresome. These business people have worked very hard. Their success is earned and their success is a big part of what makes this a prosperous community and a very nice place to live. They're not perfect. They're also not corrupt abusive slave drivers drinking from gold chalices. They work hard too! What they have created -- individually and collectively -- puts bread on a lot of tables in our community. The pious tone of your letter is simply objectionable. Perhaps you should start a business. See what it's like to meet a payroll week after week. Base your wages on your ideals not the realities of the current marketplace. See how that goes.

This is a naive response from someone who doesn't know much about how small businesses function. Owners typically work 50-60 hours a week and are responsible for every problem that arises during the daily course of operations. The food industry in particular is famous for it's very small margins, so a sudden cost increase can send it into the red. The minimum wage increase will have a big impact on many businesses and it is a completely news-worthy story to hear from some of them about their concerns and strategies for dealing with it. If they can't handle it in this poor economy it is possible that some of the lower-wage earners will lose their jobs due to layoffs or closings.

Companies will find ways to eliminate lo-skilled jobs. I am pretty sure McDonalds is well along in testing robotic burger flippling machines and robotic order takers. I look forward to the day I can just speak my order into a screen and a robot sends the bag back to me and it will be the way I want it for a choice and with no snarky attitude. Unskilled labor is worth what it is worth. Trying to put an artificial value on it like these do gooders want may temporarily lift the wages of these workers but in the end those jobs will be eliminated or outsourced. This solves nothing for them but adds extra costs to businesses.

I'm sure that anyone who has ever served you a meal also looks forward to that day.

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