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  • Reverend James Squire

Show Me the Money

I have often said and written about that in ethics you have to follow the money. I want us to look at this phenomenon and what is getting peoples’ attention. I could see this trend when the strippers in LA formed a union. The union movement has taken hold of our country in the form of outrage caused by the great gap between what workers make and what a CEO or stock holders make. It is really a story about the discrepancy between payment to the working class and the ruling class, the haves and the have nots. No one has escaped this hot button issue which underlies, in my opinion, significant problems in our nation. Remember as well that basic ethical driving force of “it’s not fair,” our first moral utterance out of the mouth of toddlers.

Yesterday the Inquirer highlighted the high salary of millions of dollars of Madeline Bell, CEO of Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia. It was still a small amount of money compared to the new contract of Jalen Hurts. The anger toward Bell which included an unflattering cartoon on the editorial page was underlined in the Inquirer article. Why the anger? The angry response is due to Bell being the head of a non-profit. Her salary was three times what the hospital devotes to helping the poor and those in need. Jalen, on the other hand, works for a for profit organization.

Vicki and I give to Children’s Hospital each year. We get the Children’s Hospital Magazine where the emphasis is on how the hospital is providing health care to those in need as well as cutting edge research. I have never seen the salary for Bell in any communications from the hospital. People tend to give to organizations that are helping others. High executive salaries cause cutbacks in giving for it touches that nerve of haves and have nots.

The same thing occurred when it was learned that Amy Gutman, former President of Penn, was given a sweetheart payout that included a low interest mortgage for a home. People were indicating that those funds could have helped the Philadelphia School System. Penn is a non- profit.

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t get a tax break for being a non-profit and then pay your CEO like a for profit. Although Trump’s company inflated his worth and his properties’ values to get better bank loans, we recently discovered that he then down played the value of his properties to reduce his taxes. He also indicated that he couldn’t show his tax returns because he was under audit. He lied and could have made them public with no problem.

The one that is really getting the nation’s attention is the UAW strike where CEO Mary Barra received a 40% raise for a large amount of her already high salary. The workers want the same percentage increase particularly because the auto industry’s profit margins are so high. The average worker makes $80,034 which means that they would have TO WORK 362 YEARS TO MATCH HER SALARY. That is in large type for a reason of driving home a point.

It seems to me that there may be a similar issue among these people, Trump, Gutman, Bell, and Barra. When Barra was asked about her salary, she never answered the question but said, “It’s complicated. It’s based on performance.” Any time someone responds to a question about “show me the money” like Trump, and says it is complicated, get your ethical glasses on. That means that the average American is too dumb to understand the complexity which adds insult to injury or you will see them tap dancing around the question.

So here is the question that these individuals and their respective institutions never ask. If the CEO salary is based on performance, why shouldn’t the workers' salary? The $80,034 salary of the auto worker is fixed. There is no way for him or her to be judged on performance. The have nots have no opportunity to improve their lot in life except by holding down additional jobs. However, CEOs can improve their lot in life by performance. That is an unfair issue of motivation.

When I was working in the steel mill to pay for college and other expenses, I was shoveling coal in the coke plant where coal is heated to high temperatures to be changed to coke for the open hearth where the steel is formed. It was 10 hours a day, and I knew what my hourly wage would be. It was fixed. One August they shut the coke plant down for necessary maintenance. A group of us were sent over to the cold rolling mill where the finished steel was banded so that it could be rolled into coils for shipment.

We were warned by the regular workers not to slow them down or else we would accidently have our faces rearranged. Why? Because they were not there to get money for college, regarded by them as a frivolous undertaking at best. They were there to get more money to make a better life for their families. There was a quota of steel that had to be rolled into a coil each day. If we generated more coils for shipment than the quota, we would all receive an hour per hour bonus of more money. Between fear of the regular workers and our greed, we worked harder than we felt possible and made a lot of money.

Why aren’t these institutions mentioned above not including profit sharing in their negotiations? This depends on a reasonable quota to be met before a bonus kicks in. That is essentially what is going on with CEO salaries.

If you read the entire scope of our history, it is clear that if someone has a lot, the haves, it is because that money has been generated on the backs of the have nots.

Let’s take a look at one of the worst offenders, Jeffrey Bezos! Vicki got into a conversation with an Amazon driver and asked how many deliveries he had to do in a shift. He was responsible for getting 150 items delivered to his assigned customers. We had a friend who attempted to be an Amazon shopper for others at Whole Foods. She was a hard worker, but couldn’t keep up with the number of orders she had to fill so she was placed in a lower paid position in the store.

These people paid for Bezos’ flights into space. In fact, you may recall that he dedicated the first flight to the Amazon workers. It made them furious. Not surprisingly that flight had them request that first ethical statement of the toddler: “It’s not fair! Treat us fairly!”

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