Government efforts to tell business owners how to hire and pay employees continue to be in the news. While I do not represent myself as an expert in this field, I have had the opportunity to work as a middle manager in New York City with one of the largest corporations in the world as well as to own and operate a small business here in Key West. That at least provides a basis for some thoughts and opinions on this topic and, as is my custom, I will share some of those thoughts and opinions with you.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: EVERYONE WHO DOES THE SAME WORK IN THE SAME ORGANIZATION SHOULD BE PAID THE SAME. That concept may sound good when uttered by a naive politician looking for votes, but in the real world, it just is not practical. The truth is that, in any large company or other organization, different employees (men and women) with the same job title are paid different salaries. That is the norm, not the exception. Here’s why. Even medium-size organizations have written job descriptions for every job title, as well as starting pay levels for each of those jobs. Typically, an employee of any gender or race hired or promoted into one of those job titles starts at the basic pay level for that job. But in many if not most organizations, periodic raises are more or less automatic. So, at any point in time, there are dozens (or hundreds) of employees with the same job title, but with different levels of seniority, who are seeing different numbers on their paychecks.
There is also another factor that can affect income of different employees with the same job title– performance reviews. Many organizations require supervisors to periodically rate the performance of employees. And those ratings can affect the frequency and amount of future raises and promotions– or even continued employment.
So . . . in summary: All of the employees we’re talking about here are employees with the same job title and who are supposedly doing the same work– but considering seniority and performance reviews, there can be a wide disparity between the size of paychecks. Different employees with the same job titles are often not being paid the same– and that is not illegal or immoral.
Of course, this question has to be asked: Are all personnel decisions objective and fair? No. There are good managers and there are poor managers. And government regulation can’t do much about that. But competent employees who find themselves in a discriminatory situation can. They can work within the organization to try to improve their situation, or they can go elsewhere for employment. The operational word here is “competent.”
For what its worth, it has been reported in the press that there is some pay disparity between women and men who work in the White House. Go figure.
MINIMUM WAGE. Another wage-related topic. Although some politicians want to make a government-mandated minimum wage a political issue, the truth is that that very few employees in the job market actually make the minimum wage. Most make more. With few exceptions, the minimum wage is a starting wage for young people just breaking into the job market or retirees looking for a few extra bucks to supplement their retirement income. In any event, it is safe to assume that anyone who is interviewing for any job is told what the starting wage will be, so the employee who signs up for a minimum wage job should not pretend to be shocked when he or she gets his or her first paycheck– although they might be legitimately shocked when they see how much tax is taken out of those checks! If government officials really want to help low-wage workers, they should work to lower the taxes taken out of their paychecks.
Like many of you who are reading this column, I had all kinds of part-time jobs (and full-time jobs in the summer) to make a few bucks, starting in junior high school– including delivering newspapers, working as a bag boy in a grocery store and selling soft drinks in the stands at college football games. But it never occurred to me that I might be doing any of those jobs for a living later in life. There is a related topic here that I have written about before: Everyone has a responsibility to at least think about a plan for their own futures– perhaps starting with staying in school and trying to avoid having babies while they are still children themselves. And once in the workplace, showing up, working hard and continuing to improve their knowledge and skills.
A KEY WEST EMPLOYMENT RECOMMENDATION. Speaking of showing up, I think it was the famous philosopher Woody Allen who said, “Eighty percent of success in life is just showing up.” During the 18 years that I ran Key West The Newspaper, I periodically got calls from employers in other cities who were considering hiring one of my former employees– and they wanted a recommendation. In most cases, I was able to tell them that I could give the former employee a “Key West recommendation.” “What’s that?” the caller would ask. “A Key West recommendation is probably more simplistic than you are used to,” I replied. “It’s just this: I can tell you that the former employee you’re asking about consistently showed up on time and sober. In Key West, those are the most important employee attributes we can hope for.” Well, what about job competence?” the caller would ask. My answer was this: “If the employee worked for me for at least a month, you can assume that he or she was more than competent– or he or she would have been gone by that time.”
Dennis Reeves Cooper founded Key West The Newspaper (the Blue Paper) in 1994 and was editor and publisher until he retired in 2012.