Whenever the subject of raising hourly pay to a livable level comes up in Los Angeles, you can expect two stalwart foes: The Chamber of Commerce and the Central City Association. They both represent business and they always argue that paying working people a wage they can live on will hurt business owners. I cannot recall a time they ever claimed anything else.
But now a new voice from the business community has surveyed the field of low-wage work and come up with a conclusion quite opposite the Chamber’s and the Association’s. A member of the faculty at MIT’s Sloan School of Management (named after a former president of General Motors, no less) compared wages and company results among sales people and check-out clerks. These jobs happen to rank one and two in the number of employees in the country, and they are notorious for low pay, part-time hours and oppressive working environments.
(This article was reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute. It first appeared on The Nation’s website and is republished with permission.)
The call from the temp agency comes in late October. I’ve passed the drug test, cleared the background check, sat down for a quick interview—“Can you lift fifty-pound boxes?”—and completed a worksheet of basic math problems. Now there’s a job. A warehouse just outside the city of Ontario, about forty miles east of Los Angeles, needs more bodies to meet the holiday crush.
They do work for Walmart, Best Buy, “all sorts of big companies,” says the female voice on the line. Orientation starts at 8:15 am; pay is $9 an hour. “Make sure you’re early.” Before hanging up she repeats the order. “Be early.”
On an overcast Tuesday, I pull into the parking lot,
Until recently the Internet, along with the devices that brought it to us and the platforms that have expanded its usefulness, held a certain cool, selfless allure. The Web was mostly the idea of young, rule-breaking rebels, and their insurgent mystique made them hero geeks. Browsing a favorite blog on our laptops, a cup of red-eye coffee nearby, we felt a part of the New. Then money began doing what it always does to young, rule-breaking rebels – it turned them into our parents, our landlords and our loan officers.
It began in earnest, I suppose, with last year’s tiff between Amazon.com and the state of California over Sacramento’s insistence that the online retail behemoth start collecting state taxes on its sales. Amazon eventually struck “compromises” with California and other states that mostly favored Amazon. Many of us in California smiled – we got an extra year of purchasing on the site without paying taxes.