Businesses can afford to pay living wage
Originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, April 10, 2019
My company just had its best year ever, doing over $3.5 million in business and bringing on 11 more employees.
The idea that a company can’t make money and take care of its workers is a lie that was sold to us. It’s the same sort of lie that would have you believe hundreds of millions of Americans are lazy rather than 400 Americans are greedy. I am speaking as someone who started his company with $500 to his name. From the day we opened, I guaranteed a $20 an hour minimum wage, I had no capital or loans from wealthy family members to fall back on, just a simple belief that no one who works full time should be unable to live or cover the basics.
In a state as expensive as Hawaii, $20 per hour is a starting place; I personally consider anything less an insult to working people. Today the lowest paid person at my company makes $22.50 an hour, and the highest, $75 an hour. Most are paid over $40 an hour, and despite, that profits are higher than ever. A living wage yields benefits to the business.
I’m sure by now you have heard other so-called “business leaders” saying how impossible raising the minimum wage would be, how it would be bad for workers and crippling for business growth. They’ll tell you how small business will not be able to handle the burden and how prices would sky rocket. These are falsehoods. I am a general contractor. On every one of my jobs, I am bidding against other business leaders, against people who pay their workers as low as $10 an hour and yet I keep getting the jobs.
I have gone from $500 in the bank to $3.5 million in projects last year, and we are on pace for $6 million this year. How is this possible? How does someone pay higher wages and remain competitive on pricing?
No. 1: When you pay a higher rate and explain to those who work for you that you are doing it to make sure they have a living wage, you get loyalty from your workforce. The people who work for me are happier and work harder. They feel valued and accomplish goals ahead of timeline. I never am forced to retrain, never had anyone quit in the 3-1/2 years the company has been open, so I never lose the massive amounts of money to high employee turnover that most companies suffer from.
No. 2: I don’t believe in being greedy. Simply speaking, the reason business leaders don’t want to give workers a higher rate of pay is that they don’t want to give up their record profits. Sadly, they would rather own a second house and in the case of large companies, would rather own private jets, Bentleys and elected officials than allow their workers to put food on their table and a roof over their head.
I self-imposed a way of thinking on my company, I decided early on that the people who worked for me would be my friends, my family. I would take care of them. I have no interest in reaching the top alone.
When it comes to when the time is right to pay workers a living wage and how to make this law, I am not interested in taking what someone has called “the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.” The time is now. Asking workers to wait four or five years to make a couple more dollars is wrong. Asking them to return every year to beg for a raise is wrong. Lawmakers should make sure wages keep pace with the consumer price index. The time for action on behalf of working people is now.
Erik Hay owns and operates South Shore Design Concepts.