Word from Winkler — An American myth

An effort has begun to ensure that employees of private contractors and concessionaires in federally owned buildings are paid a livable wage. I support this. I am always amazed when people and institutions argue against a livable wage.

Some persons who work in federally owned buildings came to the United Methodist Building this week to meet with representatives of various denominational offices and faith groups. Several of us from the General Board of Church & Society attended.

Robert said he feels caught in a trap.

Robert Day, a 25-year-old man who has a great smile and winning personality, told us he works at the Potbelly sandwich shop in Union Station, the train station and shopping Mecca near Capitol Hill. After four years, Robert earns $9.75 per hour which is not enough to go to college or to rent an apartment for his son and him. They rent a room.

Robert said Potbelly has been a good employer, but simply doesn’t pay him enough money. Robert said he feels caught in a trap.

A question

My question is this: If you perform an honest day’s work, shouldn’t you make enough money to provide the basic necessities for your family? If not, why not? Why, exactly, should chief executive officers make 380 times more than the typical American worker?

Why, exactly, should chief executive officers make 380 times more than the typical American worker?

In 1980, CEOs made 42 times more than the typical worker. If CEOs are really worth 380 times more than the average worker, what has happened that makes them so much more valuable now than in 1980?

Let’s face it, friends, much of what we’re dealing with here is old-fashioned greed.

As a taxpayer, I want to know why my government is permitting contractors and concessionaires to use the buildings we own to charge top dollar to us while paying their employees bottom dollar?

No lavish lifestyle

The food at the McDonald’s in the Air & Space Museum on the National Mall costs significantly more than it does at almost any other McDonald’s, yet a 23-year-old woman named Martinique told us that after a year there she makes all of $8.56 an hour.

Martinique said she makes about $950 a month, but her basic expenses — rent, food, phone, student loan repayments, etc. — total $2,700 a month.

Lest you think that sounds like a lot of money, please multiply $2,700 times 12. You come up with $32,400. That does not equal a lavish lifestyle, certainly not in one of the most expensive cities in the nation.

Martinique is only able to keep her head above water by working at other jobs and relying on friends and family.

The myth in the United States is that poor people can become rich, or at least Middle Class. The reality, as documented by the Pew Charitable Trust Economic Mobility Project, is that few poor people are able to do so because they are trapped in dead-end jobs.

A positive social value

Reduction of inequality is a positive social value. Our United Methodist Social Principles state, “We support measures that would reduce the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.”

People like Robert and Martinique are organizing for better pay. They have been joined by many others around the nation who are asking President Obama to use his presidential powers to ensure that federal contractors and concessionaires pay a living wage and respect the rights of workers.

Our Social Principles also declare that we support the right of all employees and employers to organize for collective bargaining into unions and other groups of their own choosing. And, we support the right of both parties to protection in doing so.

Those workers who are seeking a decent wage have turned to people of faith to help them. I can’t conceive of a reason why we shouldn’t.

Letter to the Editor