Sunday, February 19, 2017

Is Andrew Puzder ‘Anti-Worker’ for Opposing Labor Laws?

Donald Trump’s Labor Secretary-designate Andrew Puzder, who recently withdrew from consideration, came under withering attack by the Left because his “far right views”—i.e., pro-free market views—don’t conform to its welfare statist agenda. Typifying the attack is a New Jersey Star-Ledger guest column by Yasmeen Holmes, a member of 32BJ, a property services union. Here are some excerpts from Low-wage N.J. mom: Trump's Labor pick says he doesn't care about me:

While TV pundits debate the political and financial market implications of President Trump's pick for secretary of labor, I worry how it will impact my family and millions of other low-wage workers, who Andrew Puzder has deemed not worthy of a $15 minimum wage, overtime or sick pay.

As the CEO of CKE Restaurants, Puzder makes 294 times what an average person earning the minimum wage makes in a year.  

So how could he possibly understand my struggle? I am a single mother from Newark raising five children and one grandchild.  I work at Newark Liberty International Airport. The pay is low, but I take pride in my work.

My emphasis. Holmes, a contracted airport worker, goes on:

Puzder told the Los Angeles Times in 2016, "There's no way in the world that scooping ice cream is worth $15 an hour, and no one ever intended it would ever be something a person could raise a family on."

What he fails to realize is that these low-wage service-oriented jobs require a lot more work than JUST scooping ice cream.  And that a significant number of fast-food workers are adults with families, not teenagers who live at home and work a summer job to earn a little extra money.

Puzder is also a vocal critic of a host of other policies that low-wage workers like me deserve and need to have a decent life. Among them, the Department of Labor's new overtime rules, federal government assistance programs like SNAP or food stamps and federal housing assistance. And he has strong views against the Affordable Care Act.

Puzder's history and anti-worker beliefs should give us all pause. . .

As federal lawmakers consider whether to approve Puzder's nomination, I ask them to remember my family and the tens of millions of other Americans whose lives hang in the balance. . .

Notice how Holmes brushes off as insignificant “teenagers who live at home and work a summer job to earn a little extra money.” This line is typical for proponents of the minimum wage. But that first job for that teenager is the first rung of the economic ladder that leads to better paying jobs later. The minimum wage kicks those lower rungs out. And they accuse Puzder of “anti-worker beliefs.”

Holmes claims that low-wage service-oriented workers “deserve” higher wages and benefits. There may actually be some truth to that: The repressed economy brought on by intrusive government policies of recent years have certainly held back job creation and competition for labor, which in turn holds back workers’ compensation gains. But that shouldn’t and in fact can’t be fixed by more government interference. The path to a stronger economy is more freedom through pro-growth reductions in government controls and spending.

Also, notice Holmes’s claim of need as a justification for coercive, rights-violating government policies.

I left these comments, edited and expanded for clarity:

It is morally obscene to smear as “anti-worker” a man who runs a company that creates and maintains over 20,000 jobs, all of which are filled by people who voluntarily took their jobs based on mutually agreed, mutually advantageous terms.

A person who opposes minimum wage, overtime, sick pay, and other government labor mandates is actually taking a positive moral and practical stand.

No worker “deserves” to get by government policy—by force—what she cannot gain by voluntary agreement, no matter her level of wages or struggles. Need is not a license to steal, with or without government as your hired gun. That’s just cronyism no different from corporate cronyism. When government forces these mandates down the throats of employers, it violates the moral rights of employers and job-seekers to forge their own voluntary agreements. That is immoral, but also economically destructive. A person whose services are worth only $8.00 per hour does not miraculously become worth $15.00 simply because some politicians pass a law to mandate $15.00. He just becomes unemployable. Add to that other mandates that raise the cost of hiring, and it gets worse. Consumers of labor are no different from any other kind of consumer: Price matters.

Statements like Puzder’s claim that many low-wage workers are “not worthy of a $15 minimum wage, overtime or sick pay,” if he actually said that, is not a moral slam on workers’ work ethic or character but an objective assessment of what the market will allow. What a person is worth is not what Andrew Puzder or anyone else arbitrarily “deems.” Nor is it what Yasmeen Holmes thinks she “deserves.” A person’s economic worth is based on what she contributes to the productive mission of the business, as determined by what the employer is willing to pay based on the cost of maintaining the job (compensation, capital investment, etc.) relative to what consumers are willing to pay for the end product or service. An employer who overpays her workers—that is, pays more than consumers are willing to return in purchases—won’t be in business for long. An employer who underpays will, in a healthy economy (which we haven’t had for a long time), lose his best employees to better paying competitors. Reality, not whim, ultimately determines pay levels. Political interference can’t overcome reality.

Holmes’ claim that Puzder “could [not] possibly understand my struggle” because of his salary is irrelevant to the issue. What Holmes ignores are the many job-seekers who will never get a job because jobs conducive to their skill and experience levels have been outlawed. A worker whose productive skills fit an $8.00 job will never get or keep—and thus have no chance to advance to—a $15.00 job. I wonder if Holmes understands the struggles of being artificially unemployed by laws that outlaw jobs at the lower end of the skill and experience scale. What right does Holmes have to stop employers from offering and job-seekers from accepting that $8.00 per hour job? What right does the government have to outlaw such jobs, or any honorable jobs? One motive Holmes can’t claim is to be pro-worker.

As of this writing, I read that Puzder has withdrawn his Labor Secretary nomination due to tax issues regarding a former housekeeper. But Puzder’s tax problems are irrelevant, as is Holmes’s mention of his salary (which was a sneaky appeal to envy and resentment). The morally reprehensible attacks on Puzder in this article highlights something that is increasingly wrong in America; something that includes people up and down the income scale—the growing numbers of people who, resentful of the personal responsibility that life requires of them, believe they “deserve” to get from others by force of government’s guns—by law—what they cannot earn by merit and voluntary market agreement.  

Related Reading:

Work Is a Means of Rising From Poverty, Not an Entitlement to Rise Above Poverty

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