From Occupy Wall Street to Occupy My Employer

If the “99%” can feel justified in taking property away from the “1%” on the grounds of fairness, then why can’t workers take a bigger share of a company’s revenue on the same basis? That’s the logic behind a campaign launched by CWA 1199 against Cablevision. Why do Cablevision’s employees need a union according to 1199? Because a former company COO earned more than twice as much as his employees.

Fairness as a determinant of a person’s pay level is also behind the drive to raise New York State’s minimum wage and behind living wage legislation on the agenda in New York City and elsewhere.

The fairness doctrine is predicated on the notion that one’s pay should be more a matter of want than one’s contribution to the enterprise in which one is employed.

Hence, performance as a basis for rewards of pay and status should be downgraded because that criteria undermines the opportunity for those who do not perform well to get their fair share.

Further the ability of the enterprise to pay — whether public or private — should not be considered when it comes to compensation of the work force. Such considerations undermine the ability of those who are unproducitve to gain their fair share.

Let’s be clear that fairness is a subjective value. In the past fairness was balanced against the need of the enterprise to be successful and survive (either make a profit or do the job with available resources). Today, there’s an underlying assumption that no company or government entity is paying its workers a fair wage. Rather, they are hoarding their resources and giving them to the 1%.

A company that pays its workers above the value of the contribution they add to the product or service will not long remain in business. The history of the American car industry is about that very issue. By giving in to union wage and benefit demands, GM, Ford and Chrysler had to charge so much for their cars that they opened the door to foreign manufacturers which were able to sell a superior product at a lower price even when the cost of shipping foreign made cars to the US was taken into account.

The history of the public sector over the past 40 years parallels that of the automobile industry. Elected officials gave in to union demands without consideration of the ability of taxpayers to foot the bill, often by ignoring the future pension obligations they were agreeing to. That lack of political courage has harmed both public sector employees and the general public, as it contributed to the belief that public sector employees are overpaid and underworked relative to private sector workers.

Let’s not waste our time debating whether fairness as a basis of compensation is socialistic or communistic. Labels are not important. What’s important is to recognize the long-term implications of undermining ambition and achievement.

Taken to its logical conclusion doing well in school and working hard in order to obtain a job that gives one decision-making authority and pays well should be discouraged. Why? Those values place the successful individual above the norm and undermine the ability of those who are below average to get their fair share.

Like pay, school grades should not be given out on the basis of performance but rather on the basis of want. Minority and handicapped students have a greater want of good grades since many come from low-income households and enter school with “unfair” disadvantages. Since they will not need to learn skills or work-world values in order to get a fair wage why require that they master subjects or compete with other students!

Grades, jobs and compensation should not be based on merit or performance but rather want — the measure of fairness.

Since the majority in any country skew to the average, the tendency of democractic societies is to elect officials who are in favor of policies that focus on results rather than contribution, on rewards rather than worth, on outcomes rather than effort.

The question we must ask ourselves is will that kind of society be able to compete against those that reward success based on enterprise, competition and equal opportunity and that provide a model for young people justifying effort and ambition? We only need to read the daily accounts of the problems facing Europe to gain a hint of the answer.

If that’s where this country is headed, is such an outcome the kind of fairness we owe future generations?


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