Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Workers and Wages Aren’t a ‘Cost,’ We’re an Investment

April 7th, 2015 | Kenneth Quinnell

Kenneth-Quinnell_smallReading today’s Politico Morning Shift column, this sentence stood out in a short piece on Wisconsin Republicans’ efforts to repeal the state’s prevailing wage law: “That’s an 80-year law requiring that workers on construction jobs for local and state governments be paid a wage that the state determines to represent the prevailing norm—a calculation that tends to raise labor costs.” The bias in that construction is pretty simple, and it’s one that is often repeated by journalists despite it being a very clear anti-worker frame: Workers are a “cost” and not an investment and not the part of a business that does the work that creates the company’s profits. In other words, this common construction says workers are a pesky obstacle instead of the source of revenue a company needs to survive and grow.

When was the last time you heard a reporter refer to CEO pay as a “labor cost,” despite the fact that for many companies these massive payouts are much bigger than the amount any prevailing wage law might increase worker pay? When was the last time you heard other common costs such as buying machines to build products or raising investment capital, as a similar type of burden? When was the last time we talked about worker compensation as an investment that grows a business? When was the last time you heard about how hiring workers and compensating them well increased profits for a company, when the evidence is pretty clear that such a thing happens all the time?

Those questions are rhetorical, but this one isn’t: Why is there an insistence on repeating extreme right-wing anti-worker talking points as if they were facts? Reporters, who represent objectivity and balance, have a responsibility to not favor business interests over those of workers.

This insistence on focusing on workers as secondary to the interests of business owners shows that there is a need to pivot the debate in America. Reporters aren’t making up this language; they’re reporting what anti-worker politicians, pundits and business owners are saying. But the conversation is starting to change, and working families are the ones forcing the change. They expect us to stay silent and allow them to get away with whatever they want, but we’d rather talk about raising wages, expanding the middle class and making the American dream more real for more working families. When the national conversation only includes one side of the story, it not only leaves most Americans out of the conversation, it helps keep wages stagnant and creates an obstacle to giving people a raise.

This blog originally appeared on aflcio.org on April 4, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

Author’s name is Kenneth Quinnell.  He is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist.  Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  Previous experience includes Communications Director for the Darcy Burner for Congress Campaign and New Media Director for the Kendrick Meek for Senate Campaign, founding and serving as the primary author for the influential state blog Florida Progressive Coalition and more than 10 years as a college instructor teaching political science and American History.  His writings have also appeared on Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

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