Workers Should Not Feel Like They Need to Kiss Butt

I wrote the below article in response to a column on the CNN web site by Ruben Navarrette.  In this column, Mr. Navarrette is trying to make the point that we are all responsible for illegal immigrants because “we” all demand too much money and benefits from our jobs and our employers

In part Mr. Navarrette wrote:

“My grandfather would do any kind of work without complaint and graciously accept whatever wages were offered because he felt as if the employer was doing him a favor by giving him a way to support his family. When I start a new job, I instinctively negotiate for a higher salary and more vacation time than I had at my last one — that is, more money for less work — and I usually feel like I’m doing the employer a favor by showing up.“

See the full text of the Navarrette column here:

Dear Mr. Navarrette

All workers, at any level, need to view themselves as a business entity and actively work to maximize the return on their efforts.  Your grandfather’s failure to bargain for his labor by taking whatever pay was offered, and throwing in some free labor to boot, allowed his employer to take advantage of him in the marketplace.   Your grandfather was not only helping to depress wages and benefits for himself, but also for those workers that compete alongside him in the marketplace.

Your own instinct to negotiate for the best possible salary and benefits at your new position was the right one.  The first rule in business negotiation is to never leave any money on the table. If an employer can afford to pay $10.00 an hour why should you be happy with $8.00?  Employers are turning a profit on your hard work and as an employee one has a right to negotiate for the best possible return on one’s efforts.  The only practical way to ensure that you leverage a fair market price for your labor is to hold out for the best possible wages and seek out employers that pay the best wages and benefits.

The market should be a place where buyers and sellers come together of free will, on equal terms, to bargain in their best economic interest.  This includes the labor market.

There are still places in America where all the jobs that need doing are jobs done by legal workers.   The labor market determines which jobs are critical and necessary to the function of our economy.  Those jobs, industries and business models that cannot compete in the labor market fall by the wayside.  This is the process of “creative destruction” that ensures that labor and capital is applied to those products and businesses that are in demand in the marketplace, those businesses that can compete for workers with the best wages and benefits.

By extolling the virtues of workers who take any job at any price, you’re only encouraging employers to exploit the workers and create business models that produce low paying jobs.  Why would you wish on your fellow Americans (or anyone) low pay for physically demanding jobs?  You seem to be arguing for a declining American Standard of living in order to justify the need for illegal low skilled labor.

Your grandfather’s attitude toward his own labor, and your argument on behalf of the illegal immigrants would deconstruct the very process by which America became a wealthy modern society in the first place.  The notion that America needs the underclass of employees working as little more than economic slaves is elitist and counterproductive to the well being of our labor markets and our economy.

It is not that Americans will not do hard physical labor, it is that Americans shun hard physical labor that is not valued in the marketplace, and rightly so.  We should all actively pursue the best jobs at the best possible price.  This is how we became a rich and prosperous nation.

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