Ralph Nader, the famous son of Winsted, Conn., and lifelong advocate for social justice, fired off a three-page letter Thursday morning at a rather large corporate target:
“Target pays many of its workers unconscionably low wages, is the fourth largest low-wage employer in the country, requires employees to watch anti-union propaganda, and just last year was found to have intimidated its workers and violated federal labor laws,” Nader said in a missive to the retailing giant’s chairman, president and CEO, Gregg Steinhafel.
He added: “This behavior reminds one of Wal-Mart.”
The letter is one of a many that Nader – and his project, TimeForARaise.org – has sent in recent months to corporate executives in hopes of bringing this country’s minimum wages back to the heights of 1968, adjusted for inflation (roughly $10.50 per hour, he said). His campaign is trying to humble the likes of Wal-Mart and Target into hiring workers at wages more akin to those dished out out by rival Costco – whose CEO and president, Craig Jelinek, this summer voiced support for a minimum wage above $10 an hour, Nader said.
Costco’s starting wage is $11.50 per hour plus benefits, Nader said. The company can boast lower employee turnover rates, lower employee theft figures and great worker productivity, he said.
Reached by phone at his Litchfield County home in Winsted on Thursday evening, Nader painted a rather gloomy backdrop for his recent activism to Hearst Connecticut Newspapers.
“Everything is getting more corporatized, more under the domination of global corporations and their political allies,” he said. “They crashed the economy in ’08, ’09 on Wall Street. They unemployed 8 million people, created a deep recession, strip-mined trillions of dollars in pensions. And then they go to Washington and get bailed out by taxpayers.”
“That’s a lot of power,” he added. “And none of them get prosecuted or sent to jail.”
In his letter to Target, Nader lays out his rationale for why raising minimum wages could be a turbo boost for both Target and the U.S. economy. He also goes for Steinhafel’s jugular.
“Target employs over 340,000 workers in the United States,” he writes. “While many of these ‘team members’ are paid no more than a poverty wage, your compensation package brought home over $28 million in 2012. This amounts to almost $14,000 per hour!”
Generally, he builds his case by piling up a series of studies and statistics, duly footnoted. He says that raising minimum wage to $10.50 per hour would benefit 30 million working Americans. He points to a report that concluded if Wal-Mart would pay its average worker $10 per hour, its payroll costs would only increase by 2.7 percent (and average shoppers would pay just $0.11 more per trip). He marshals out a study that shows how taxpayers subsidize a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Wisconsin over $900,000 a year because its employees require so much public assistance after payday to make ends meet.
On the phone Thursday night, Nader said he’s been frustrated with the lack of political action on the issue taken by President Obama, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) — to say nothing of the entire Republican Party. He also threw barbs at Connecticut’s delegation, saying that only U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-1, has held a town meeting on the topic. He did acknowledge that the federal government shutdown and debt ceiling crisis have been somewhat distracting.
Nonetheless, Nader expects the issue to grab major headlines in the run-up to the midterm elections of 2014.
“Lots of groups are going for it,” he said. “And the Democrats aren’t that dumb not to.”
As to whether he’s heard back from Steinhafel — whose office at Target’s Minneapolis headquarters was sure to receive the letter by lunchtime Thursday, he said — Nader said no.
“It’s far too early. These CEOs in these big companies take a long time to get back.”
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