Re: Living wage

Unca Jones (best-smith@TRIAX.COM)
Fri, 27 Nov 1998 11:25:39 -0800

As a self employed general contractor my company works by the
"contract", a monetary system I pass on to any subcontractors needed on
the job site. In other words, I bid a job, say a painting contract for a
certain amount (let's say $200), if I finish the job in five hours my
hourly wage (minus supplies) averages about $35 per hour (paint supplied
by the customer), if I bid a job low and unforeseen events cause me to
drag out that job (a recent example where I caught the flu and couldn't
manage to get much of anything done) then I eat it big time, chalk it up
to bad luck and move on to hopefully more substantial earnings.
My wife uses the same system in her cleaning business, enabling her to
average approx. $5,000 + per month. These are examples of experienced
contractors (we've been in business for seven years), picking and
choosing the best contracts possible.
We started this business with a beat up Toyota (ladders, rolls of
carpet, vinyl strapped to the top) and have progressed to the point
where we now have newer vehicles better suited to the task (I eventually
killed that poor car dragging a roll of carpet up the side of Mt. Hood,
the final hundred yards with the car in reverse because I burned up
first gear).
     What I'm saying is that free market wages do work if we as workers
effectively master our trades and then utilize opportunities to
eliminate the middle man - who usually reduce our earning potential by
     Training wages are a different story. Trainees must understand that
wages are tied to productivity and that progress can only be made by
dedication. On the other hand, if employers use and abuse sweatshop
techniques it is absolutely wrong and tantamount to slavery - workers
feeling tied to low paying jobs because they are unaware of, or fearful
of new and different opportunities.
     Minimum wages SHOULD reflect living wages, but productivity must
enter the equation. Once we reach the ceiling for a particular job then
it's time to start looking elsewhere, this tells employers that they
must either pay up or retrain and start someone from scratch, not
necessarily a winning decision to lose someone with experience.
     Modern work situations are moving more and more to subcontractor
systems and workers need to be aware that survival in the next century
depends on self motivation. Perhaps this information is disconcerting
but it's true and we need to prepare and train for this eventuality.
     "Living wage" must be a personal commitment to sometimes long hours
and stressful situations. "Minimum wage" should only be for training
situations, beyond that selfish employers are only milking workers to
sustain lavish lifestyles on the backs of those who power their
products. In that case, workers have a responsibility to take their
experience to the highest bidder, or better yet, formulate a business
plan to eliminate the employer and take charge themselves. Several
programs do exist to further self employment situations, the rewards of
self employment are worth it and often are less expensive than people
By no means an expert, I am more than willing to correspond and answer
questions on how we have gone from welfare to workfare. It doesn't take
an education (I didn't finish college, my wife didn't finish high
school) nor a lot of money (a broken down Toyota and twenty bucks in
direct mailings to the right sources started us out). Sure, it took a
little luck but mostly it took determination and a desire for something
better than being constantly downsized, laidoff and treated like
something less than human.