It’s Time Employers Showed Workers the Money
For the first time in decades, it’s a worker’s market
There is an unspoken agreement between Williams Sonoma and its store-level employees. In exchange for wages well below the poverty line, workers get discounts on the company’s upscale kitchen supplies. My wife’s employment there a few years ago is a case study on wage inequality.
Shortly after we relocated to North Carolina in 2012, my wife worked as the assistant manager at a local Williams Sonoma. Like many of the company’s employees, she was there primarily for the discounts. The employee discounts were as much as 40% off. Given the company’s high-end inventory, the deals can make a huge difference in an item’s price tag.
Although she had the keys to the store, her pay was only $11.50 an hour. That’s above the current minimum wage of $7.25, yet it only amounts to about $23,920 annually. Once, she mentioned the particulars of her assistant manager position to her mother. Then, after a pause, my mother-in-law explained that she’d earned more money working the Clinique counter at a Little Rock department store — over 20 years earlier.
But not everyone at the company receives cookware in place of decent wages. Take Laura J. Alber, the company’s CEO. In 2019, she made $17,028,444 in total compensation. But Alder is hardly an outlier in the world of CEOs.
According to the Bloomberg Pay Index, her compensation for that year doesn’t even crack the top 10. Not even close. Just this month, a survey commissioned by the New York Times found that 2020 was a blowout compensation year — for CEOs. Despite the pandemic, the gap between CEO pay and that of their workers expanded. According to the survey, CEOs received 274 times the median employee’s pay at their companies, with CEO pay jumping 14% over the prior year. During the same time frame, the median worker got a paltry 1.9% raise.
It seems not a day goes by without CNBC or some other cable news outlet pushing the “businesses just can’t find workers” narrative. Now, I’m not an economist, but I think there’s a strong argument that what we have isn’t a labor issue; it’s a wage issue.