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A Healthy Bottom Line Isn’t All That Matters

By Rep. Darrio Melton

Last week I wrote about my plans to support an increase to the minimum wage in Alabama, but I wanted to take this opportunity to dive a little deeper in why I feel that employee fairness is critical for our working men and women as well as our corporations.

I believe that job creation is important. It gives the people in this state an opportunity to pursue new opportunities and provide for their families in a better way than before. So when a large corporation wants to build a store or a factory in Alabama, I think that it’s great for the people who will benefit.

Years ago, we had this discussion about the automotive industry when Honda, Mercedes, Kia and others came to Alabama. Then we discussed Airbus. Now, Boeing wants to come to Alabama, and Governor Bentley is rolling out the red carpet, promising free land to build a factory, tax incentives, low labor costs and a plan that will “knock Boeing’s socks off.”

Now, keep in mind that Boeing is leaving Washington State because the state’s proposed $8.7 billion in tax breaks through 2040 (the largest state tax break for a company ever) are not enough to combat the employee’s desire for a pension program and a raise greater than one percent every other year.

I’m not sure what’s in the governor’s plan to “knock their socks off,” but I’m betting it gets Boeing out of paying employee pensions and raises, too.

One of my favorite holiday movies is National Lampoons Christmas Vacation. The movie centers around a family with out-of-town relatives and the crazy things they do, however there is another message in the movie that resonates with me. Throughout the movie, Clark is waiting on his Christmas bonus, which he has received every single year. He’s so certain that he will get his bonus that he went ahead and spent the money.

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His boss, in an effort to save the company money, decided to cut out bonuses and enroll all employees in a Jelly of the Month club. Clark is upset so his cousin, Eddie, kidnaps the boss and brings him to the family’s home. Clark explains to his boss, Mr. Shirley, why the bonus is so important to his family, which causes his boss to have a change of heart.

“Sometimes things look good on paper, but lose their luster when you see how it affects real folks. I guess a healthy bottom line doesn’t mean much if to get it, you have to hurt the ones you depend on. It’s people that make the difference. Little people like you,” he says.

That’s a takeaway that the Alabama GOP supermajority and large corporations sometimes miss: just because a bottom line looks good doesn’t mean you achieved it in a way that was fair to your employees.

Cutting out pensions and pay raises help a company’s board and shareholders, but they don’t do any good for the working men and women who struggle to put food on the table every night. Without those men and women, there would be no shareholders. There would be no profit.

If we have to compromise the dignity of our working men and women to lure corporations into our state, I say they can stay somewhere else. We should be focusing on education and job training so that companies that come to Alabama know they’re getting workers worth every dime they pay.

If we have to change our tax structure to lure corporations here, I say they can stay somewhere else. The average mom and pop business on Main Street doesn’t get free land and billions in tax breaks to operate, so why are the rules different for the companies on Wall Street. We should be focusing on creating an economic environment that allows all businesses to thrive, not just the ones at the top.

I believe in job creation and economic development, but not at the expense of the men and women who need a pay check and fair working conditions to provide for their families. We must hold the Governor and the Supermajority accountable to give workers and small business owners with the same red carpet treatment that they give the big companies.

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Representative Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010.

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