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Let’s Treat Workers Right!

by Jennifer Pozark

When companies boost profits by cutting jobs and benefits to employees, they are praised by Wall Street analysts for increasing their economic efficiency. But where are those “extra” profits really coming from? When workers are not earning enough to pay for food, shelter and medical treatment, the cost of providing these things is often passed on to the public. Taxpayers then find themselves subsidizing corporations that do not pay workers a living wage or provide adequate health care coverage.

At Wal-Mart, one of the most profitable companies in the world, its 900,000 employees are required to pay such high premiums and deductibles for health insurance that only a minority of them can afford it. Many full time workers are paid wages that keep them below the poverty level. When Wal-Mart employees turn to public assistance, it doesn’t hurt corporate profits, but it places a burden on taxpayers.

Wal-Mart may be one of the most notorious and extreme examples, but as the country’s largest employer they have a powerful influence on the pay rates and working conditions at other businesses. Similar situations exist in stores, restaurants, hotels, hospitals and schools all over Massachusetts. Many of the jobs available offer less-than-living wages, substandard benefits and meager hours.

These days the people who work as cashiers, meal servers, janitors and at other “unskilled” jobs are more often self-supporting adults than teenagers earning pocket money. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, retail and service industry positions will account for three-quarters of all new jobs created between 2000 and 2010. Companies will depend on the adult workforce to fill these positions and keep their businesses running.

White-collar jobs are also suffering from the corporate mission to increase profits. Many companies are eliminating full time administrative positions and replacing them with temporary jobs that offer lower pay, few if any benefits and no job security.

Approximately 20% of companies that downsized in 1999 hired temps to replace employees who were let go according to the report by the Campaign on Contingent Work, “A Report on the Temp Industry in Massachusetts”. The total number of temporary jobs tripled during the 1990’s. Very few temp workers qualify for health insurance through their employer.

The temporary employment market is expanding to include jobs in even more areas such as the technical, industrial and health care fields. The report finds evidence that many well paying positions in manufacturing that were thought to have disappeared have actually been converted to lower paying temporary jobs.

Companies must be held responsible for practices that save them money by creating expenses for the public. It is time for businesses to share their wealth with their workers and make fair payment into the social system that sustains our economy. This includes recognizing the important contributions of all employees and providing jobs with fair wages and benefits.


Families USA


GAO report on contingent work

Center for Studying Health System Change


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