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Let’s be fair

One of the favorite pastimes of government is to create rules that limit the private sector while exempting themselves from the same restrictions. Often laws and regulations, ostensibly for the safety and guidance necessary for the average citizen, carry exemptions for the largest employer and organization of them all… government. The current situation at the national level is a prime example of such double dealing. What company would be allowed to demand that its employees work with just a promise to pay them at some unspecified time in the future? An argument can be made that our collective lives and security are at stake and therefore, in this instance, normal rules do not apply.


In 1981, air traffic controllers decided to test the system by calling a strike, protesting their pay and workweek. On August 5, 1981, President Ronald Reagan began firing 11,359 air-traffic controllers who defied his order to return to work. The president of the Professional Air-Traffic Controllers Association (PATCO), was ordered to pay $1,000 a day in fines. Approximately 7,000 flights were cancelled and those fired were banned from reinstatement. The uprising was crushed; a theoretical exchange of modest pay for job security and above average benefits was maintained. Although many rank and file government employees have remained at the low end of the pay scale, a few have reaped a bountiful harvest of high salaries and benefits. How times have changed!


It appears that government has a special place in the work environment. It makes rules for others but, when inconvenient, expensive or mystifying for those subjugated to their enforcement, has a tendency to remove itself from obligation. This happens at all levels, even at the local level. An example of this was on display as the Fremont City Council wrestled with a minimum wage ordinance that would diverge from a State law that will increase the current $11/hour for “small employers” (less than 26 employees) or $12/hour for “large employers” in increments to reach a maximum of $15/hour in 2023, then increase by the Consumer Price Index thereafter. Sixteen Bay Area cities have already adopted local ordinances to expedite minimum wage increases.


There are few, if any, who would argue that the wages proposed are anywhere near a living wage in the Bay Area. However, some employees do not totally support families or themselves through their employment. Unfortunately, many employees attempt to do just that. When addressing this issue, a host of factors confront employers faced with the reality of economic conditions even without government regulation. Solving the dire situation of those at the lower end of the pay scale is a complex and fundamental problem for a severely unbalanced fiscal system that relies heavily on technological illusion, abstractions and exorbitant financial rewards. Unrealistic minimum wage ordinances will not solve this problem.


Within the argument for a minimum wage ordinance, Fremont was forced to face its own vulnerabilities. A proposed exemption for youth working for the City or non-profit organizations was examined. What effect would an increase for employees (those working 2 hours per week or more) have on hiring summer employees, interns, paid volunteers, after school programs? Non-profit groups, included in the proposed exemption count on altruistic considerations to supplement low wages but what about the City? Arguments of fiscal impacts were made to bolster the case for an exemption, but were rejected by the Council – as they should be. If the private sector is expected to follow such regulations, it seems only fair that the public sector bear the burden as well.