Dear Editor,

I was so upset by Mr Brunell's article, that I thought I ought to write you a letter... but it turned into an article, which I hope you will consider:

Response to "Minimum Wage is Backfiring" by Don C. Brunell

In his January 14th article printed in the NVN, Don Brunell would have us believe that we punished workers by increasing the minimum wage. His article makes it sound as if the increase in minimum wage is the reason we have more poor people in our state now.

 One of the first things members of our "age of information" society should do when feeding at the table of the media, is ask "who is serving this dish?"

 Mr Brunell is the president of the Association of Washington Businesses. His source of information is a think tank at Ohio University named the "Employment Policies Institute". A famous lobbyist for big business, Rick Berman, created the "EPI". Mr BermanŐs job is to persuade politicians to make laws that give the restaurant, hotel, alcoholic beverage, and tobacco industries advantages (in other words, more profit). These companies provide the funding for the study that Mr Brunell uses. The Center for Media and Democracy describes EPI's mission as "to keep the minimum wage low, so Berman's clients can continue to pay their workers as little as possible".

 Mr Brunell would like you small business owners to believe that he is fighting for you, because there are a lot of you and you vote. But, small business owners are not the ones who benefit when politicians keep the minimum wage low. This is because it is more important to small businesses to attract and keep good employees. They tend to compensate workers in a variety of ways, and be concerned that their workers earn enough to maintain a minimum lifestyle that includes housing, food, utilities and clothes for the kids (without governmental assistance programs.)

 Corporations like McDonalds and Wal-Mart on the other hand, apply their "throw away" mentality to people. Mcdonalds, for example, replaces their entire low-end staff two times a year. (My friend Gayle was essentially forced out, when she showed no signs of leaving.) Wal-Mart also has a high turnover rate in low-level jobs, and on the day an employee is hired has them file for government assistance so the benefit costs to the company are kept low. Cost to taxpayers for a single 200 employee Wal-Mart in government benefits their employees need: $420,750.

So what about that factoid that even though salaries are going up, poverty is increasing? Mr Brunell has decided to compare two statistics that have no relationship with each other. First of all, the minimum wage, which in 1950 paid half of what the average wage in America was, now pays less than a third. Even with the recent raise, a full-time minimum wage job (which is hard to find since most are part-time so employers donŐt have to provide as many benefits) pays just above the official poverty level. Unfortunately, the official poverty level income is only about half of what it costs to maintain a small, no-frills household.  That "economic recovery" we have been hearing so much about, has lost more middle income jobs and replaced them with fewer minimum wage service jobs, like fast food and Wal-Mart cashier.

But why are the average salaries going up? This is because a few people in our state (the top ten-percent) are making more, a LOT more.

Take for example Craig Barrett, the CEO of a local company, Intel. He made $2.12 million in cash compensation in 2003, and was given1.35 million stock options. This was a substantial increase over last year when he made $1.68 million in cash and 584,000 stock options. (The stock options today are worth approximately $23 per share, you do the mathÉ)

 So why does Mr Barrett (and many other top corporate employees) make so darn much money? Because he is really good at increasing the value of his companiesŐ stock, which make stockholders and Wall Street really happy. One way he does this is by keeping costs (like wages) low, and keeping his companiesŐ earnings report high.

As for the myth of the minimum wage job being the first rung on the ladder of successÉ The next few times you are gassing up, ask the people behind the counter how long they have been in this kind of work. Better yet, ask how much more they make than they did four years ago.

For more information on this important topic, please read Lynda V. Mapes well written article called "Good Business: Two Local Companies Are Proving It Pays to Do Well By Workers" in the January 16th issue of the Seattle Times. (It is available online.)

 Despite what you may have heard recently, it IS patriotic to ask questions. In fact, it is our obligation to do so in order to prevent our beloved democracy from becoming a country that is run by corporations who must maximize profits regardless of the effects on itŐs citizens.

AnneMarie Murdock

17545 110th Ave SE

Yelm, Wa     home:  360-458-5535, cell:  360-481-3660