If you have ever been through a corporate job search, you have probably seen plenty of statements by companies about how committed they are when taking care of their employees. They display this idea that employees are an asset worth investing in. But when it comes down to reality in the for-profit world, chances are there is only one thing that they care about. That’s the profit.
Apparently, there was a time after World War II where there seemed to be a lot of loyalty between companies and employees. This was partly because there were so many business opportunities in manufacturing, as the United States would make things here and distribute throughout the world. Things are not so easy for today’s American industry, because of global competition where wages may be much lower in other countries. The effect has been that workers are treated like an expense that needs to be dealt with, rather than assets for the business to hold and improve.
Some companies such as Wal-Mart are well-known as employers who don’t really care about their employees. A recently leaked training video from Wal-Mart shows how important it is for them to keep their employees from forming unions…they don’t want those employees banding together and creating a voice that could actually help them. If you ask a fiscally conservative person for their opinion on how Wal-Mart workers could have a better experience, they might tell you that the free market determines the value of these employees. What they won’t tell you, is that Wal-Mart employs the largest chunk of low-wage workers in this country, and every year our taxes pay for millions of dollars in public assistance for their employees because they don’t make a living wage.
So people love these low prices at Wal-Mart, and they don’t understand that those low prices are actually subsidized by their tax money. When those Wal-Mart workers get food stamps, where do you think they spend them? Back at Wal-Mart. So Wal-Mart gets to pay these employees less than a respectable wage, and then profits off the public assistance that they receive because they can’t survive on that Wal-Mart wage.
And what about these tech companies that are famous for showing off how well they treat their employees? Do people have any idea how much these companies use temporary labor? There are tech companies that have more temporary workers than full-time workers. Why is that? Because you can treat a temporary employee like an expense, and get rid of him/her as soon as you have figured how to replace them, either with a computer or a person in a developing country.
There was a time when regular workers could in some cases retire with a pension, meaning their company would continue to support them through retirement. Now, the only people who matter, especially in corporations, are the investors. Not the ones that get offered some stock options as a part of their compensation. The only ones with a real voice are the rich. This is why CEO pay gets tied to stock performance.
How could this happen? I am not willing to believe that people have become more greedy than ever just in the past 30 years. But what I do believe is that the wealthy have acquired too much influence over our politics and society. They have set up this arrangement for their own benefit. Over 90% of national Congressional elections are won by the candidate who has received the most donations. Who donates the most money? Big business.
Conservatives will tell you that things like health care benefits are bad for small businesses, because those businesses cannot afford to pay these benefits to their workers while growing. However, most low-wage workers in this country are employed by huge corporations like Wal-Mart and McDonald’s. They use terms like “small business” so that the average Republican supporter will think that they are talking about them. It is all designed to help corporations while the small businesses actually suffer. Just think about it: if every American already had access to healthcare because of our taxes, small businesses would not have to provide this as a benefit. Right now, small businesses have to provide this and compete against the larger businesses that can offer better health coverage. I am still waiting for someone to explain to me how it is better for a small business owner to have to provide health coverage, rather than that being a given for the employees that they depend on. These small businesses are more likely to treat their workers as individuals, but have a harder time hiring because they don’t have the best benefits otherwise.
Some would say that this all started back in the 70s, when economist such as Milton Friedman started to declare that the sole job of business leaders is to provide value to their investors. Companies stopped caring about the best interests of the employees, and now treat them as necessary evils they encounter in order to get that value for the investors. That is why your employer doesn’t even care if they pay you enough to buy their products.
Maybe I am preaching to the choir here, and you’ve discovered this truth along your path in life. But hopefully this will prevent some people from feeling a false sense of loyalty for their employer. Form a union if you need to. The prevailing philosophy is that you are a resource, not a human, so please do not believe any for-profit institution that claims it will take care of you, unless you happen to be on the board of investors.