Tuesday, May 19, 2015
The fight for a living wage that Hawaii ought to join
The shift toward raising the minimum wage by local lawmakers comes at a time when the fight for $15 movement has swelled into the largest protest by low-wage workers in US history. –The Guardian
by Larry Geller
The “fight for $15 movement” is not something the commercial press likes to report. But fortunately, you, as a faithful Internet reader, probably know all about it.
The rest of Hawaii will find out later. As cities across the country get on the bandwagon, sooner or later even our conservative media will notice that Hawaii, through inaction, is increasingly mired in poverty. It may take events here to prod them, though, and over the next few years, the chances of protests reaching our placid shores should increase.
Los Angeles became the largest US city to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour on Tuesday, as a wage increase bill passed the city council by a vote of 14-1.
Under the proposed legislation, the city’s minimum wage would increase to $10.50 in July 2016, and would increase incrementally every year until it reaches $15 in July 2020. For small businesses with 25 or fewer employees, the wage hike would come on a modified schedule with the incremental increases starting in July 2017 and the minimum wage reaching $15 by July 2021.
[The Guardian, LA becomes largest US city to increase minimum wage to $15 an hour, 5/19/2015]
Hawaii’s minimum wage is scheduled to creep up to $10.10/hour in 2018 in yearly increments. California, in contrast, will be at $10.10 in January, 2016. And for us, that’s it. Especially considering the high cost of living here, we will remain mired behind much of the rest of the country. The brain drain will continue as graduates leave their families to earn a living elsewhere. Perhaps this will spur action, who knows, and who knows when that might happen.
Other cities and states must react, and they are:
In the past year, two other US cities have approved similar wage increase measures. In June 2014, Seattle moved to increase its minimum wage to $15 by 2017. Last November, San Francisco voted to increase its minimum wage to $15 by 2018.
Other cities, including New York and Chicago, are considering raising their minimum wage to $15 an hour. In February,New York City mayor Bill de Blasio called for a $15 minimum wage by 2019 in his state of the city address.
Why must they react? If for no other reason, because their people will be clamoring for it. Despite the commercial news silence, people are connected and will coordinate their efforts. That a movement exists isn’t in doubt.
Workers in Atlanta, Boston, New York, Los Angeles and more than 200 cities across the US walked out on their jobs or joined marches and protests on Wednesday during what organisers claimed was the largest protest by low-wage workers in US history.
Some 60,000 workers took part in the Fight for $15 demonstrations, according to the organisers. The protests are calling for a minimum wage of $15 an hour in the US, more than twice the current federal minimum of $7.25.
[The Guardian, Fight for $15 swells into largest protest by low-wage workers in US history, 4/15/2015]
But will this movement come to Hawaii? In general, we have a more politically disengaged populace than many of the protest cities.
Clearly, our dominant hospitality industry would not want to pay $15 an hour to have its floors swept and beds made. Their grip on the job market and on employment prospects for high school graduates may keep the lid on—anyone joining a protest line can be easily replaced as new service-industry job seekers are constantly generated.
The results of maintaining a poverty economy only break into the news when something bursts at the seams. Currently, growing poverty as manifested by mounting homelessness is in the news, but reporters are not digging deep enough. Underneath is the chronic inaction of both city and state that allows an out-of-control deficit in affordable rentals that’s not going to be solved by simplistic solutions such as packing the poor into converted shipping containers.
Paying a living wage could be part of a solution, if politicians and their corporate backers wanted one.
But hey, $15 an hour is a nightmare for them—so the people need to push for their own solutions. A living wage will not be given to us as a “gift.” Which brings me to…
Hawaii’s “cargo cult mentality”
Hawaii aspires to be the “hub of the Pacific” in technology or other areas of endeavor, but simply issuing press releases or speachifying doesn’t make that happen. It has long seemed to me to be a kind of “cargo cult,” that is, government offers us this ongoing ritual, and nothing ever comes of it.
While each place on the planet is unique, here is what novelist Chinua Achebe wrote about Nigeria in his book The Trouble with Nigeria. And no, I am not suggesting Hawaii is the same as Nigeria, but check this out:
One of the commonest manifestations of under-develop-
ment is a tendency among the ruling elite to live in a world of
make-believe and unrealistic expectations. This is the cargo
cult mentality that anthropologists sometimes speak about
— a belief by backward people that someday, without any
exertion whatsoever on their own part, a fairy ship will dock
in their harbour laden with every goody they have always
dreamed of possessing.
Listen to Nigerian leaders and you will frequently hear the
phrase this great country of ours.
Nigeria is not a great country. It is one of the most
disorderly nations in the world. It is one of the most corrupt,
insensitive, inefficient places under the sun. It is one of the
most expensive countries and one of those that give least
value for money.
The shoe almost fits.
One may reasonably ask which way we are headed: Is it towards California, or is it towards Nigeria?
Without public pressure, there will be no Housing First for the homeless and no affordable housing for anyone else. Oh, and there won’t be a $15 minimum wage any time soon, either. Nor much ag land for sustainable farming. Nor safe air to breath around the chemical company’s seed lots. Nor the possibility of commuting to work in a reasonable time each day.
Get used to it, or do something.
Larry, once again you hit the nail on the head with, “One of the commonest manifestations of under-development is a tendency among the ruling elite to live in a world of make-believe and unrealistic expectations.”
My elevator speech words for it are “irrational behavior” by many politicians and their appointees, seemingly from a revolving door of the same few well-connected but ineffectual people. Oh, some of them are “nice” enough but they often make terrible decisions that negatively affect we lower income folks. We know all of this.
Re the minimum wage, that brings up the subject of what you call the missing “advocates.” People have been and are “clamoring for it” but the Chamber of Commerce, now better organized than ever before and helped to cut the guts out of our original bill. And where WERE all of the advocates? They were all there but it happened anyway. And then There’s the “tip credit” aspect of it. Then-Senator Ige got his way and that stayed in. The implementation aspect of it sucks too. While one might forgive “the advocates” for failing, afterward they fell all over themselves for taking credit for it! That’s when their credibility went out the window.
In the meantime, our affordable housing and homeless problems continue to grow, Hawaii’s infrastructure continues to crumble — and of course “the train” debacle which seems to be a bottomless money pit.
I would make the same comments about the University of Hawaii and the seemingly exorbitant salaries many are enjoying there; many who seem to have little common sense or management expertise. Perhaps second only to local government, indeed the UH is the mother-load of Hawaii’s rampant favoritism, cronyism, and nepotism.
Then throw in this theory:
Are Politicians Psychopaths?
By David Freeman
Senior Science Editor,
The Huffington Post
I don’t pretend to have all of the answers but I do have some of them which I plan to start publishing in the near future. Suffice to say here and quoting Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”