Saturday, June 14, 2014

Day 313 of 365: Paid What You're Worth

There's something that has not been sitting right with me for quite some time. It started with a random comment on the minimum wage increase. Someone said, "You're not paid for how hard you try; you're paid in what value you are to the company." Misguided and slightly pie-in-the-sky attitude, but, in terms of internet comments, they could be a whole lot worse.

But, because the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon is an actual thing, suddenly that's all I could see. "People are paid what they're worth! If you're punching numbers in a cash register, then you're not worth much!"

I'm going to first set aside the part where, if you look at wages over the years and adjust for things like inflation and productivity, a "punching numbers in a cash register" person should be making at least $18/hour. That's a rant for another time. I just want to dissect the "you're paid in what value you give to the company" belief.

On paper, that makes a lot of sense. A boss will make more than his underlings because his worth to the company is greater. It takes more work and responsibility to keep the ship sailing, and it's harder to replace a boss. On paper, this makes 100% sense.

But what about interns? And I don't mean interns from yesteryear, who got paid in college credits, worked part-time, and mostly played the part of observer while they did menial tasks. I mean the 2014 intern. The person who would have the title of "VP of Communications" or "Marketing Manager" in 1999. The person who works full-time and gets paid nada. No college credits. No stipend. Just "valuable experience" -- which, somehow, in our day and age, has become a commodity in and of itself, even though apprentices of yesteryear still got paid as they learned their craft.

I'm talking about the 2014 "intern" who really is "accounts receivable". The internship that weirdly hires a 35-year-old man with experience in the field. I'm talking about the intern who is not even remotely an intern, but slave labor.

That sounds like something out of a Colbert Report skit, but it's not: the previous paragraph describes an actual situation that an actual 35-year-old man got into. He applied for an internship after getting laid off, and quickly realized that they were just using the term to have a free accountant.

Because, "A company will pay you what you're worth/your value to the company," is about as farcical as, "Communism ensures equality for all." A company will pay you what they can get away with. Because -- honestly -- are you going to tell me that a CEO is really worth 400 times what their average employee makes? I can go ahead and list about three or four CEOs who are now notorious company-hoppers, driving the company into the ground as they do whatever they need to do to get their yearly bonus and then deploying their golden parachute. And that isn't including any of the CEOs involved in creating the Great Recession of 2008.

Companies have hemmed and hawed about having to make changes to better protect their employees, from the Industrial Revolutions, when they scoffed at the idea of putting up expensive safety rails by heavy machinery, to far, far, far beyond that. It's the same flawed human mindset that gives rise to slavery in the first place, but that is also a rant for another time.

It's exhausting, hearing people spew out flawed ideology like this, as if corporations are calculators, systematically figuring out exactly an employee's value and subsequent wages. Because, at the end of the day, companies will do whatever it is they can get away with. And the more the government shrugs their shoulders, the more corporations will act up. And the more "interns" we'll see in the marketplace.

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