When it comes to big issues, look before you leap
Let me begin by thanking Joe Baxter for his inspiring column last week. It is not often that I can have a good laugh and simultaneously become incensed enough to take the time to write a response.
Since my academic study of philosophy stopped after 101, I am far from any significant comprehension of the discipline. While it is good to see that Mr. Baxter may have been awake for some economics 211 classes, he unfortunately makes it painfully obvious that he is no economist through such instances as his delineation of “economics” from “the value of labor” and market determination of wages. I’m no expert either, but I was not aware that these two were mutually exclusive.
Ironically, being a student of philosophy, Mr. Baxter attempts to build a logical argument by taking as fact his somewhat creative reasons for why people should earn higher wages, which I find to be questionable premises. Realistically, there are many factors that go into wage increases, and simple supply and demand models capture only a fraction of the total picture. We could have a discussion about COLAs, for example, but I imagine that someone like Mr. Baxter would Google the term before taking part in one.
The true issue at play here, however, is not whether or not UNICCO workers have “earned” an increase in wages, but whether or not their current wages are reasonable.It is simply unconscionable that someone could work a full 40-hour work week for an entire year-without any health care benefits-and earn an income that is literally thousands of dollars below the federally-mandated poverty line, a measure often criticized by some experts as being too low to begin with. Regardless of the fact that their work is considered unskilled labor and that there is a surplus of people with similar levels of education and skill, the UNICCO workers deserve a higher wage simply because they live in a time and place where their current wages are pathetically low.
This transcends any notion of supply and demand, and is a blasphemy of the so-called “American dream.” And this goes without even mentioning the complete lack of respect, the exposure to dangerous chemicals the unfair and possibly illegal anti-union practices, even the alleged physical abuse of workers, all of which point to blatant corporate irresponsibility. Six-fifty an hour might work in Tennessee, but it does not cut it in Miami.
Why don’t these people do as Mr. Baxter suggests and gain “skills” through education? The last I checked, most students are not footing medical bills and rent without assistance, and plenty have mom and dad to make sure they stay well fed. These workers lack sufficient social networks and have no safety nets to protect them from unexpected yet all-too-frequent hardships. What many fail to recognize is that while we are all here buying our degrees, many people simply cannot afford such a luxury.
Mr. Baxter attempts to educate us about the elementary rules of supply and demand, and what should happen if we held all things constant. He also seems to suggest that we drop any notion of the inherent respect rightfully due to all persons. While this might work in a little microeconomic bubble, it does not-and more importantly should not-work in our great “open minded” nation. So thank you for teaching us what we already know, and reinforcing our notion of moral responsibility. But above all, thank you for teaching us to look before we leap.
Students and faculty who are interested in the issues surrounding the campus strike organized by the Service Employees International Union need more information than they are getting from traditional media sources.
There are two issues here. One is the attempt by SEIU to win recognition as the collective bargaining agent for our workers at the university.
The second is whether wages and benefits paid to the employees are appropriate and under what criteria that can that be judged.
In the first case, the SEIU should abandon its strike-which has won support of 25 percent of the 225 UNICCO workers at the Coral Gables campus-and immediately petition the National Labor Relations Board for a secret ballot vote. Currently, the SEIU wants UNICCO to decide whether the union will represent our workers. We think it would be more appropriate to remove that decision from our hands and put it in the hands of our workers, who should be allowed to exercise their vote. Something is wrong when the SEIU pulls a strike for recognition with a 25 percent participation rate while a mechanism for a timely election is available.
On the second issue, the president of the university has in good faith offered and established a working group to study and make recommendations for compensation of all contracted employees, not just UNICCO’s. It is expected to issue recommendations within the next two weeks. The University community should give the working group the chance to finish the task that the president has charged them with.
For more information on the issues, please visit www.uniccotruth.com.
Vice President Labor Relations
UNICCO Service Company
The Race to the Top
Within the pages of the last issue of the Hurricane was a column by a UM professor describing the race to the bottom; a process in which employers pay their workers the lowest possible salary while still being able to sell T-shirts. Entirely lost in the mix, of course, is the other side of the equation.
Suppose you had two economies, A and B. In economy A, employers can pay their workers $10 per hour, the market determined wage. In economy B, however, employers are forced through legislation to provide a minimum wage of $12 per hour. The result, of course, is that economy A will sell more T-shirts and will employ more people. In economy B, employees will have to be laid off, some businesses will be unable to make ends meet (laying more people off), and fewer T-shirts will be sold. The end result: more people being forced to live off the state, and there are fewer T-shirts for everyone. Not to mention the fact that with the $2 saved by the consumer in economy A, more goods are purchased, employing another individual in another market.
In this, the land of opportunity, people are free to choose where they work and employers have more freedom in what they can pay their workers. If one wants across the board increased salaries for lo- skilled workers (which inevitably increases the production costs throughout the employment spectrum), feel free to reside in the double-digit unemployment societies of Germany, Spain or Italy. In order for America’s economy to remain at the top in this increasingly competitive global economic environment, we need increased flexibility and ingenuity, not regulation and legislation.
It is important to realize that in the midst of the UNICCO debate, there is a significant cost to increasing wages. Examine the UAW’s detrimental effects to Ford and GM, which just happened to lay off a combined 50,000 North American workers, and the point becomes clearer. Where will the replacement car factories be built? Asia, of course, where salaries are lower.
Someone will ultimately have to pay for an increased UNICCO contract. While there has been much mention of the University of Miami’s recent $1 billion campaign, little has been said of the University of Miami’s outstanding debt. UM is one of the top 10 indebted universities in the country, due to President Shalala’s massive campus overhaul; two parking garages, a nursing building, an architecture building…The money has to come from somewhere.
Thus, if we truly want increased salaries for workers, we must accept the consequences as well. Looks like we will all be paying even more for that degree.