Friday, February 24, 2012

Nashville Chamber of Commerce Legislates Against ... Itself?

Posted By on Fri, Feb 24, 2012 at 7:00 AM

While we at Pith don't claim authority on matters economic and financial, our heads are scratching over the Nashville Chamber of Commerce's decision to spin legislation against local raises in minimum wages while at the same advocating the very wage increases it's trying to squash.

First, some context: Earlier this week, the chamber launched "Business Voice," an online service designed to drum up support for policies beneficial to business interests — in this case, further depressing worker wages to insulate employers from the culture of entitlement that threatens Democracy as we know it (and is a known leading cause for honeybee colony collapse disorder). As you may well know, this is a byproduct of the supply-side economics that have been good to American workers — so good that it's kept their pay levels frozen to 1980s levels, while their bosses have seen their pay soar like the mighty bald eagle.

Thus the chamber has thrown its support behind a pair of bills sponsored by a couple of free market defenders, state Rep. Glen Casada and state Sen. Brian Kelsey, whose HB 3386 and SB 3276 would, respectively, prohibit local Tennessee governments from raising wages.

The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce does not believe local governments should get into the business of establishing independent minimum wage ordinances that limit private businesses' ability to invest and add jobs. Instead, the Chamber supports a consistent state policy regarding local minimum wages for private businesses, leaving the federal government to set the minimum wage level. ...

Allowing market forces to determine pay rates above federal requirements will help ensure consistency in employee wage and benefit regulations across all jurisdictions in Middle Tennessee, leading to a more predictable and favorable business environment.

It's a familiar, albeit specious, tack that the country's plebes must be forced to make do with less in order to remain competitive with their Chinese equivalents — and what's more, it erodes local autonomy in deference to the very federal government that conservatives like Casada and Kelsey supposedly abhor. But the truly head-exploding thing is that the chamber also supports raising wages as a means to combat poverty.

To put it another way: Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia, dumbass.

The chamber's "philanthropic" arm, the Public Benefit Foundation, is one of the key players behind the Nashville Poverty Initiative, whose Poverty Council recommended in its first annual progress report "[asking] the Mayor to lead efforts to create pathways to better jobs, including such things as increased wages, benefits and stable jobs, as well as extended opportunities to access training and supportive services."

As its right hand works against its left hand, the chamber effectively renders moot the efforts of the Poverty Council and its assorted partners by undermining the report's recommendations, which would see that worker pay and benefits are protected and increased.

Marc Hill, chief policy officer for the NCC, sought to put some distance between the chamber and the chamber-created organization's plan.

"This is the community's poverty plan, this is not the Chamber's Public Benefit Foundation's poverty plan," Hill tells Pith, adding that the recommendations are based on the input of hundreds of individuals and organizations that participated in the plan's creation, of which the Public Benefit Foundation was a "co-facilitator."

"We support the production of the plan," Hills says.

When asked if the chamber's anti-wage increase advocacy counteracts its pro-wage increase policy per the report, Hill goes for the trickle-down Hail Mary pass.

"We believe the best approach to folks creating prosperity is to create jobs and improve the education of our workforce that will lead to prosperity," Hill says. "On that particular point, we disagree [with the report's recommendation]. We would suggest that there is another way to increase individual's prosperity in the community rather than mandating that local minimum wage [increase]. That's my answer."

Mary McKinney, president and CEO of the nonprofit Bethlehem Centers of Nashville, finds the chamber's stance puzzling. Her organization is among those that, along with the chamber, formed the city's poverty initiative.

"Martin Luther King, in the final years before his death, he wrote a book called 'Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?'" McKinney says. "This in 1967, but it's still true today, and he noted that [poverty] wasn't a racial issue … there were and still are many more whites in poverty than minorities. But he advocated for a living wage, and he certainly said that people stay in poverty if those jobs do not pay enough. And what's happened over the last few years in our county are more people working at poverty-level jobs."

"In light of that," McKinney continues, "I can't understand how the Chamber of Commerce would say that they are working on a poverty initiative and at the same time supporting [those bills]. Those two do not mesh."

To further illustrate McKinney's point, here is a video of a dog chasing its tail:

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