When is a wage rate a moral offense?

minimumWageDelegate Dave LaRock, from Loudoun County, one of the wealthiest Counties in America, opposes setting any minimum wage rate to pay employees, and, more than that, he also wants to compromise an employee’s right to work for more pay and benefits by reducing even further any effective way to bargain with his employer.

Delegate LaRock’s recent op-ed begs the question what measly rate of pay is too low a rate for the Delegate – so that we are not endorsing some variant of the old South’s peculiar institution?

We have resisted past predatory practices by employers – forcing children to work in sweat shops, and working employees for so many hours they dropped from exhaustion.

We’ve also had to regulate employers too willing to short change workers, to take advantage of their desperation, increase their profits while causing the workers’ misery, by denying them a decent wage.

In 1891, Pope Leo XIII admonished employers that “workers are not to be treated as slaves.” He decried how it was “shameful and inhumane … to use men as things for gain and to put no more value on them than what they are worth in muscle and energy.”

Pope Leo said, “the rich and employers must remember that no laws, either human or divine, permit them for their own profit to oppress the needy and the wretched or to seek gain from another’s want.”

In Virginia, we have been attracting business from other states by assuring out-of-state employers that they’ll be empowered to treat their work force more shabbily here, pay them less, increase their profits in the corrupt bargain, and be able to fire any worker “at will.”

But Delegate LaRock doesn’t stop with his objections to a minimum wage. He also wants to compromise a worker’s right to organize.

Delegate LaRock wrongly calls his initiative the “right to work,” but every working man and woman who has tried to bargain with a company knows that what this is really about is a “right to work for less.”

In 1926, Congress passed the Railway Labor Act that prohibited any interference with an employees’ right of self-organization.

In 1935, congress passed the Wagner Act (the National Labor Relations Act) that authorized the “union shop” meaning that, if a union had a contract with an employer, then an employee had to join that union. This is what Delegate LaRock finds objectionable.

The “union shop” policy was against moochers, free riders, like if someone were to hop a metro turnstile to get a free ride while others paid.

In 1947, a Republican-controlled Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act, over the veto of President Harry Truman, that said states could bar the “union shop” if they chose. Virginia hurried to pass such a provision to disadvantage a worker’s opportunity to bargain.

The Reverend Martin Luther King said, “Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights”

Before the Civil War, Whig Representative Richard Yates of Illinois was concerned about how slavery in the territories would hurt free laborers; he said, “The free laborer does not wish the labor of slaves to come into competition with his labor. The effect of slave labor is always to cheapen, degrade and exclude free labor.”

If Delegate LaRock has his way, resisting a reasonable minimum, and promoting a more stringent “right to work” law, our Virginia legislature shall “cheapen, degrade and exclude free labor.”