Just Economics responds

Just Economics is proud to inform your reader that we closely reviewed the criteria with which we certify a business at great length, with a special focus on “offsets” earlier this year.

We eliminated any offsets not related to the basic needs of a single individual. We do, however, recognize that if an employer offers healthcare, housing, regular meals or a vehicle for their employees, that it reduces the employee’s cost of basic needs. We developed formulas for determining basic needs adjustments.

Although our recertification process is not complete, to date, we have several employers that offer health insurance, and a few applications pending in which we will consider meals (according to our formula) to offset the wage criteria. No other new or recertified employers use other non-monetary offsets at this time. We have also improved a variety of other aspects to our program.

I invite any community member interested in learning the detailed information about our program and formulas to attend one of our bimonthly membership meetings, contact our office directly at 505-7466 or invite us to an open discussion. Just Economics is proud to be a part of a community that is so concerned with workers and their livelihoods, and we welcome input.

Please visit http://www.justeconomicswnc.org for more information about the work we do.

— Vicki Meath
Just Economics
Asheville

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11 thoughts on “Just Economics responds

  1. Diana White

    So to clarify, Just Economics is continuing to publicly characterize the living wage as $9.85/$11.35 per hour but won’t release certification documents to show what their employers are actually paying?

  2. localworker

    What about tips? Are they included in the living wage certification? If so, for how many businesses? I respectfully ask for the answer to those questions. The information in the letter above is vague.

    Transparency would tend to mean that anyone can access this information without going to meetings or paying a membership fee. If Just Economics is publicizing a certain wage but there are exceptions (i.e. people’s take home pay, in dollars, is less than the advertised amount), those exceptions should be transparent, and voluntarily agreed upon by the employees (really, by the community, who should determine what is a living wage in the first place), not rubber stamped because of some formula determined by a board of directors. I could be wrong, but I don’t think this information is available to the public, or to workers of LW certified businesses.

    After all, a living wage certified business is gaining notoriety because of their association with the campaign–consumers spending their dollars at that business deserve to know if that employer is paying a full living wage or paying a minimum wage supplemented by tips and food. It’s a big difference. If the consumer does not know, or does not have the right to know, this certification doesn’t really amount to anything.

    Since the controversy last winter (which I was not involved in) I have been following the organization. I simply do not think that Just Economics claim of transparency really holds up. We should have a local org that is geared towards making our community a better place for working people, not window dressing and superficial gains that don’t stand up well to real scrutiny. I think the Living Wage campaign provides businesses with a leg up, public relations-wise, without empowering working people to organize on their own, on their *own* terms, to make their working environments more livable. The day to day of the living wage campaign is more identified with business owners and seems wary of allowing workers their own voice.

    I have contemplated joining Just Economics in order to share my opinions and relate some of what I feel is important to improving our working environment in Asheville, but unfortunately, I don’t think this organization, with its current mission and philosophy, may be the best venue to do so, which is too bad. I would consider volunteering with or joining Just Economics if I could see evidence that they have been truly receptive to community concerns, because not everyone/every project is perfect, and shortcomings are understandable.

    If someone knows of another umbrella group working to improve conditions and organize and empower workers, please post it here. Thanks!

  3. OceanofWisdom

    living wages are a perversion of the free enterprise system. do NOT patronize businesses that embrace this anti Americanism.

  4. [b]living wages are a perversion of the free enterprise system. do NOT patronize businesses that embrace this anti Americanism. [/b]

    That’s right! Wage slavery for all!

    Hell, let’s just get right on back to Proper Slavery and put everyone in the chains.

  5. bill smith

    [b]Hell, let’s just get right on back to Proper Slavery and put everyone in the chains. [/b]

    Come, now, mat. Wage slavery is FAR more cost effective than chattel.

  6. Athena

    Localworker, if you are really concerned with this issue, why don’t you take Ms. Meath up on her offer and give her a call to discuss it?

    Full disclosure, I am a friend of Vicki’s, just at Thad is a friend of Kila’s. I know that she and the rest of JE have put in many hours, and continue to work to make this a program that benefits local workers. It is aimed at employers though, because the employers are the ones who cut the paychecks!

    JE also has a program called Voices for Economic Justice that is aimed towards low income workers. This program aims to educate and empower workers and others in the community.

    Most jobs in Asheville start at $8/hour. I hear people all the time say they feel lucky if they are hired at $10/hour. Most of the time, this isn’t even for full time work. If it was, they would be bringing home (before taxes) a whopping $20,000/year. Enough to still qualify for food stamps and other public assistance if they have kids in the house.

    It may not be perfect, but the ideal of educating employers, workers, and the community about what it takes to survive is a good one. The program has inspired several local businesses to raise their employees pay because they care about being part of a strong community… with the number of highly educated people in Asheville working low-paying jobs because they can’t find anything else, I don’t see how this program could possibly harm our community.

    It’s really easy to sit back and judge people, and point out all the ways they could be better. It is much harder to stand up and try to make a difference. Even harder still when the spectators continue to claim they could do better without standing up themselves.

  7. artart

    I wonder why I sense that Just Economics is merely a business enterprise trying to live off a concept that is viable to some, and repugnant to others. In the final analysis, how truly different is Just Economics than a quasi labor union that, under the guise of heloing workers, merely extracts funds from them for the benefit of union oficials?

  8. localworker

    Thanks for your response, Athena.

    I do recognize that Just Economics has its heart in the right place, and that there is no intent to harm the community, of course. However, this is an organization which is affecting the community, and partly funded by the community, so it should be accountable to the community. Therefore, there is no problem with members of the public sharing concerns. I’m not “judging people”, I’m sharing my opinion about the mission and tactics of the organization.

    The prominence of a living wage to the exclusion of other issues is something that I disagree with–I guess I am more oriented towards a mission that, if it is trying to improve the lives of workers in the workplace, works _directly_ with workers in those workplaces by listening to see what improvements are wanted, and helping to make those changes through collective bargaining. I’m fairly sure, though, that JE would see this as alienating to the community of business owners who are its primary “market”.

    If the community of wage-earners came together and worked through collective bargaining, we would see many more gains than a dollar raise here and there.

    By making deals with employers without having relationships with workers in living wage businesses, the org runs the risk of problems like it had last year, which is being organizationally deaf to someone adversely affected by their program, instead of considering that person on their side, they see that person as a thorn in their side.

    So, as of now, because of that, it’s not an organization that I feel I want to work with, although I am active in the community.

  9. Athena

    I see your point about workers being more involved. That is why they developed the anonymous feedback system for employees.

    I think it is currently very difficult to organize workers with successful outcomes these days. That is essentially what a union is, and businesses try their hardest to put unions down these days. Some workers from Whole Foods tried to start a union several years ago, and all that where known to be involved were fired or told they would be fired if they continued to “rile up” other workers, and cause discontent. It was a very big deal in historically unionized Wisconsin. In the end, Whole Foods won and the CEO referred to unions as “herpes”.

    In my personal experience at local businesses, if I tried to talk to the employer about wages or working conditions, I have been told in no uncertain terms that I would not be hard to replace if I am unhappy with the way things are.

    Companies that join JE are taking a chance by opening their business practices to the scrutiny of JE and the anonymous employee feedback system. That to me seems like it give employees in these businesses more of a voice than is available at many locally owned businesses.

  10. localworker

    I think we’re on the same page. But my takeaway is that anonymous feedback systems can’t really stand for worker organizing and empowerment.

    “In my personal experience at local businesses, if I tried to talk to the employer about wages or working conditions, I have been told in no uncertain terms that I would not be hard to replace if I am unhappy with the way things are.”

    Well, that’s it–the pickle so many of us are in. And my criticism is that there’s really nothing that JE is doing that is addressing root causes of our precarious situations. And I would LOVE it if they did.

    Here’s an case in point: what if workers in a living wage certified business tried to unionize? A business (like, Whole Foods, if they were LW certified, for example) can put down that union, illegally fire the leaders involved, and _still_ maintain its living wage certification (keeping that “good for workers” gold star in the eyes of the community). So the program stops short of addressing worker self-determination.

    Just Economics might argue that it doesn’t have the capacity to do workplace organizing, and that’s probably correct given the current configuration, but the fact that they’ve chosen to make the living wage certification their touchstone program speaks to their priorities.

  11. bill smith

    [b]In the final analysis, how truly different is Just Economics than a quasi labor union that, under the guise of heloing workers, merely extracts funds from them for the benefit of union oficials? [/b]

    How does “Just Economics” ‘extract funds’ from workers?

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