Most folks who’ve interacted with me for any length of time on the internet probably know I’m a small business owner, making jewelry and parasols. IRL,that’s just my side job, and my “real” (full-time) job is working in the food manufacturing industry. And that’s part of the reason why I’m so much of a proponent for raising the minimum wage, because I see the work that the folks who actually make the food do, versus the work that the upper management does. (And I feel like I should put the word work in quotes too, because upper management’s work day usually involves answering emails and talking on the phone while sitting in expensive office chairs.) I’ve worked mainly with family-owned independent firms and small corporations over the last 12 years, and here’s what I’ve seen:
Next, you’ll have the supervisors. Some of these may be line workers that have moved up, but a good portion of them will be white males who may have put in a few months on a production floor in their late teens or early twenties. After the supervisors will come the managers, and most of these are also white males, with maybe a white female or two thrown in, and then the corporate folks. And guess what their ethnicity is?
Now at a company I used to work for, the folks on the floor were getting a few quarters over minimum wage. The folks in more skilled positions, like machine operators and those that made the product, were making a few dollars over minimum wage. The supervisors were making between $25K-$40K. Middle management ran between $60-80K, upper management was ~$100-175K, and the CEO was making $675K, including salary, bonuses and stock options. (It was a publicly traded company, so we could look this upper management shit up.)
So at this company, let’s compare one of the higher paid, skilled floor workers to our CEO. This guy showed up around 4:30 in the morning and spent the entire day working hard manual labor. He got two paid fifteen minutes breaks and had to clock out for lunch. He may’ve gotten time and a half whenever there was any overtime. He was getting paid pretty well for the job, at $10/hour. This was in 2006, so at the time that was almost double the Federal minimum wage! Wow! He also got three sick days and five vacation days a year. But without overtime, that put his base wage at $20,800/year, before taxes. Compare that to the CEO’s salary, who didn’t have to worry about that sick time thing, because he was salary, and got 3 weeks vacation a year too. That meant the guy actually doing the work, without whom there would be no product to sell, was making only 3% of what the old white guy who showed up at 9am in his Lexus and sat at a desk all day was making. (And remember, we’re just talking about a smaller business I’ve worked with here, not the huge corporations. The differential there is even more sickening.) (And you want to get even sadder? I know there are plenty of folks out there that would love to actually make a whole $20K a year.)
I’m sure there are some of you reading this who are thinking “Well, they should go out and get better jobs, then!” Well, I’m sure they’d like that too. But in the meantime, I’m sure they’d also like it if they got paid a fair wage for the work they do in putting the food in the grocery stores at which you shop. I’m sure they’d love it if we hadn’t created a demand for this labor pool, with our love of cheap ready to eat foods that we can just pluck off a shelf and put into our mouth, with maybe a pass through a warm oven or microwave. But since they don’t get paid enough to support themselves and their families, let alone get ahead, they’re pretty much stuck. (There are some exceptions, and they usually involve unions.) Small business may buck the curve, but a lot of these get bought by larger corporations and over time they’ll weed out the folks who actually make living wages and replace them with cheaper employees.
But anyways, the tl:dr version? The people who make the shit we eat get paid dirt. And that needs to change.