Minimum Wage Hurts Workers


As I sit down after a long class, grasping my chicken sandwich, my first bite is interrupted by the yells of my fellow students outside of Southside demanding “higher wages, better benefits and more respectful working conditions.” That’s according to the petition set forth by Radical Organizers for Socialism and Equity (ROSE) on behalf of the dining halls’ workers.

Now that sounds really nice, doesn’t it? Well sure, if you only focus on the theoretical gains and not the inevitable consequences. But the moment anyone considers the full scope of what will happen if said demands are met, this flowery dream hurts those most vulnerable.

The Congressional Budget Office reported over 1.3 million workers would lose their jobs with a federal minimum wage increase to $15. It also noted that because women, teenagers and adults who only have a high school diploma occupy more low-income jobs, they are at greater risk.

Let’s consider the basic facts. An increase in expenses (wages and benefits) needs to be offset by a decrease in some other expenses, otherwise the business will go bankrupt and no one — meaning both the owner and workers — will be paid. To avoid this, the first thing a business usually does is let go of its least skilled workers or cut their hours.

The minimum wage has been around for many years and is set at different rates in many different jurisdictions. Therefore, we have a great understanding of what will happen when or if it is raised at the federal level. The Washington Post reported after an increase to $15, workers in Seattle lost a net $125 a month because of slashed hours. Similar negative results have happened in New York and California.

Although the petition does not offer any clear specifics on how much of a wage increase or what exact benefits ROSE is demanding, one thing remains clear: this is not an effort driven by facts, data or anything remotely resembling pragmatism, but rather emotions. Emotions which will probably cost the workers they are seeking to help the jobs they were hoping to improve.

Now, I should note two things. First, unions are not inherently bad, in fact, they are a result of a truly free market. If the workers wish to unionize to negotiate a better contract, then I laud their efforts to do so. Second, I am assuming that because the workers at Sodexo (the management company for the dining hall workers) are contracted by a public institution (Mason), they can simply get more funds by having the state or local government increase taxes or ask the school to raise tuition. Although I am unaware of the specifics of Mason and Sodexo’s official relationship, the principle stands that an increase in taxes would cause an increase in living expenses, that would increase the desire for a higher wages — putting us right back where we started, except with more inflation.

So what will probably happen is that we will receive an increase in our tuition in order to foot the bill. Have all those protesting considered this? Is it really moral, fair, kind or loving to raise everyone’s tuition — even international, out-of-state or low-income students — for this cause?