Whenever a new law is passed (usually before it passes), well-placed lobbyists attempt to make exceptions to the general rules, to insert exemptions for their clients. Thus, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act has exceptions for companies that harvest shellfish, for summer camps, for ski resorts in national forests, and many others. Some of these exceptions make sense, but many defy logic. Why, for example, should “motion picture theatres” be exempt from overtime pay requirements?
Prince George’s County recently raised its minimum wage to $11.50 in several increments over three years, and special interest pleading has begun. The first in line is apparently Six Flags, an amusement park that claims paying a higher minimum wage would create a special burden. Why? Because it claims it won’t hire as many teenagers and seniors if their wages are increased.
The company’s argument assumes that there is a necessary trade-off between paying seniors and teens a living wage and employing as many of them as it has. But is that true? Will higher wages compel the company to reduce its staff?
The weight of the economic evidence says that they won’t. But there’s one easy way to find out: require the company to open its books and let the public know what it can and can’t afford. What was Six Flags’ profit last year and the year before? What does it pay its CEO and its top five executives? Could a raise for its low-wage employees be offset by a modest cut in executive compensation? What kind of perks and expense accounts do the executives have? What is Six Flags paying its lobbyists? Could it take $10 or $15 an hour off what it pays its lawyers and lobbyists to make up for the higher minimum wage?
When any company wants a special interest break for itself, it ought to be asked to demonstrate that what it’s asking for is both necessary and fair. If Six Flags won’t open its books, the PG Council shouldn’t open up the new law.