Who’s to say what’s fair pay for work?

Moderated by Rick Badie

Recently, Atlanta was one of five cities U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez visited on a pre-Labor Day tour to promote collaboration between business and labor. Today, he reiterates that message and calls for a minimum wage increase that he says would benefit all aspects of the economy. The Georgia director of a small business advocacy group begs to differ, however, and calls a wage hike — as well as a recent ruling by the National Labor Relations Board — attempts to bolster unions. The third column deals with the importance of hiring and training young talent.

Higher wage makes sense

By Thomas E. Perez

After becoming the nation’s 26th labor secretary last summer, among my first two calls were to the president of the AFL-CIO — the largest labor organization in the United States — and the president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Those two organizations aren’t always natural allies. But to create good jobs, you have to talk to both workers and job creators.

Recently, Atlanta was the last stop of a five-city tour in advance of Labor Day to have a conversation with business, labor and civic leaders at a forum convened by Invest Atlanta. I hope to build more of these relationships with worker advocates and employers, to talk about what I’ve seen and heard during a year on the job. I also visited Bento Box, a full-scale animation studio where I met one worker who has risen in two years to become a supervisor thanks to on-the-job training partly funded by the Labor Department.

My message in Atlanta and at other stops was simple: We’re all in this together. To continue our economic recovery, we have to put down our pre-determined talking points, identify common ground and get to work.Here’s a great example: If you’re following the old script, you’ll conclude that business almost universally opposes the minimum wage. But according to recent polling, 61 percent of small businesses want to increase it to $10.10 per hour, a raise that would benefit roughly 964,000 Georgia residents. Shrewd employers are paying above the minimum wage because they know it’s the right thing to do for their workers and the smart thing to do for their bottom line. They see their human capital as a precious asset, one they must invest in to stay competitive.

Ours is an economy driven by consumer demand. When we give working people a raise, they pump it right back into the economy, spending it on goods and services in their communities. That helps more businesses grow, which creates more jobs. As a matter of fact, new research shows states that raised their minimum wages this year experienced greater job growth during the first half of 2014 than states that didn’t.

The connection between consumer spending and economic growth isn’t lost on savvy job creators. “I’m already wealthy,” one CEO candidly told me, “and I’ve practically run out of things to buy. More cash for me won’t give the economy a shot in the arm. We need to make sure the people who will spend more money have more money.”

Forward-looking employers like him reject the false choice that says you can accommodate either your shareholders or your employees. The fact is, you can serve both. Research shows that immediately after Fortune 500 companies announced new work-life balance initiatives, their stock prices increased. Clearly, the markets consider policies like paid family leave to be profitable investments.

We’ve got to stop thinking of the economy as a zero-sum game, where businesses can only thrive at the expense of workers. We have to move beyond simplistic binary thinking and seize win-win solutions there for the taking.

There’s been a lot of good economic news of late. We’ve created at least 200,000 jobs in the last six consecutive months, the first time that’s happened since 1997. Job openings are at their highest level in 13 years. We’re making things in America again; manufacturing has rebounded strongly. So has employment in professional and business services, such as accountants and architects.

But there are still plenty of challenges before us, still plenty of people working harder and falling further behind and on the outside looking in at the American Dream. To build a robust middle class and an economy that works for everyone, we must strengthen partnerships with a business community that increasingly plays against stereotypes and pursues the high road.

Thomas E. Perez is secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor.

Obama’s moves unfairly favors unions

By Kyle Jackson

Once again, the Obama administration is bending over backward — and disregarding decades of precedent — to prop up its friends in big labor at the expense of small business.

Recently, the National Labor Relations Board declared McDonald’s is a joint employer with its franchisees. It’s a cynical move meant to give unions a much-needed boost in membership and increase pressure on employers and elected officials to accept calls for a 40-percent increase in the federal minimum wage.

In plain English, the government has decided McDonald’s franchisees no longer own their own businesses. The NLRB argues the stores are co-owned by McDonald’s Corp. It’s a dubious claim that would make it easier for unions to organize fast-food workers.Until now, unions had to approach each franchisee as a separate business. If the labor board’s “joint employer” rule is allowed to stand, unions would need the support of a relatively small number of employees to unionize every McDonald’s in the country.

And it wouldn’t stop at McDonald’s. Unions would try to organize everything, from other restaurant chains to cleaning services and hardware stores — any industry with a franchise model.

What makes the NLRB’s latest move so offensive is that, once again, the Obama administration is trying to bypass our government’s system of checks and balances. Without any opportunity for public debate and no input from the legislative branch, this administration is trying to rewrite rules and overturn decades of established law regarding franchisees.

The fact is, no matter what the NLRB claims, franchisees are small-business owners who do their own hiring and firing and have their own employer taxpayer IDs. Know why McDonald’s says deals are available only at “participating” stores? It’s because franchisees have final say in whether their stores will participate.

Then there’s the question of raising the minimum wage.

Organized labor has been a big supporter of the Obama administration’s efforts to raise the federal minimum from $7.25 an hour to $10.10. On its website, the AFL-CIO says, “Raising the minimum wage is a critical and simple way to help repair the underlying weakness in our economy.”

According to economists at the University of Georgia and San Diego State University, most of those earning minimum wage aren’t family breadwinners, and most aren’t poor. What’s more, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has said raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 would result in the loss of 500,000 jobs as employers eliminate positions to offset the cost of higher wages.

So, who would a raise help? For starters, the unions themselves.

In the Wall Street Journal, Richard Berman of the Center for Union Facts said collective-bargaining agreements filed with the U.S. Department of Labor reveal that at least some union contracts call for automatic pay increases when there’s an increase in the minimum wage.

Unions in this country are in trouble. Membership has crashed. In the early 1980s, about one in five hourly and salaried workers were union members. Today, it’s closer to one in 10. Historically, organized labor has supported Democrats, so it’s no wonder the Democratic president wants to support them.

This summer, the U.S. Supreme Court said President Barack Obama’s recess appointments to the NLRB were unconstitutional. Obama tried to circumvent the congressional appointment process and seat three pro-union advocates on the board. These illegal appointments played key roles in several pro-union policy decisions, including the so-called ambush election rule, which greatly simplified the process for union organization votes, and a rule requiring employers to display union posters in the workplace.

When the labor board’s latest boondoggle reaches the courts, I hope the courts shoot it down, too.

Kyle Jackson is Georgia state director of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Interns discover bridge to first jobs

By Harold Bell

With more than 275,000 students across 66 regional colleges and universities heading back to campus, this is a prime opportunity for small- and medium-sized enterprises in metro Atlanta to recruit in-demand talent. Students will also be looking for opportunities to grow their skills through internships.

Though many students will apply for internships at Fortune 500 and 1,000 companies, the Small Business Administration reports 64 percent of new jobs come from small businesses. While working at smaller companies, interns are more likely to interact with senior managers and gain hands-on experience.

Metro Atlanta has a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem fueled by small enterprises in fast-growing technology sectors like health IT, mobility and financial transaction processing. Companies in these sectors often benefit from strong internship and co-op programs and can turn those internships into jobs. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers 2014 Internship and Co-Op Survey, more than 50 percent of internships convert into full-time hires.Atlanta has a vigorous talent pipeline for companies to pull from, ranking No. 3 nationally for engineering and engineering technology bachelor’s degrees. At Spelman, more than 40 percent of students major in science, technology, engineering and math. However, when it comes to recruiting interns, only 5 to 10 percent of companies that recruit at Spelman are small- and medium-sized firms.

Many companies are uncertain how to get programs started and where to source talent. College and university career centers can direct companies to resources to help structure programs and provide opportunities to connect with students.

Another way for such enterprises to source talent is by posting opportunities to online job databases. The Metro Atlanta Chamber, along with several higher education institutions and business organizations, recently launched a free job portal, InternNavigator.com. It helps small- to mid-sized companies connect with students at more than 27 institutions.

Another concern enterprises have is whether to pay interns. Along with challenges regarding the legality of unpaid internships, students are less inclined to work for free; most companies don’t expect them to. In a recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, more than 75 percent of respondents reported they pay interns.

With the average cost of an undergraduate education from a private college hovering around $40,000 per year and changes in credit criteria for PLUS loans, compensation for internships is more important than ever. Many students rely on this income to help finance their education.

Internships are an important bridge between higher education and our workforce. Working allows students to have mentoring and coaching from senior executives. These personal interactions and connections create a meaningful experience and impact the decision to work in a specific career field. These connections are critical to retaining top talent in the region to serve as a pipeline for our fast-growing technology sectors.

Harold Bell is director of career planning and development at Spelman College.



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