day 281: Wage Authority (redux)

While I am completing my vacation time this week, I will be running some repeats of post from the last year that seem to have resonated with many of you. Thanks and look for new posts beginning on Monday November 16

Tuesday, July 14, 2009
day 197: Wage Authority
Early in my career I was asked to compile and present annual “wage authorities” for the manufacturing plants where I worked. These entailed an analysis of the pay scales of all the employees in comparison to the competitive pay in the area factored by cost of living index adjustments. After all of the analysis, I would then present the findings and recommendations to a headquarters group and they in turn would provide me with the “authority” to deliver or negotiate a set annual wage increase for the employees. Later in my career I was asked once to defend the opposition to an increase in the federal minimum wage law. Even later, I lobbied against the state of California in their efforts to lower the exemptions to the wage and hour law that would keep employees in the technology fields exempt from overtime requirements. At each of these junctures I didn’t feel bad (at the time) about what it was that I was doing as business requirements necessitated that a certain labor wage was maintained to make the numbers work. That is the way business works after all; like every other investment, whatever the amount of money invested or spent needs to generate a return that is greater than the cash outflow, otherwise there is no profit to be gained. The same expectation is true with people. If a dollar is spent in labor then the expectation is that a greater amount of labor value is returned. These decisions are made every day in every office, every where. You may be making them right now too as you look at a promotion, or a merit increase, or an evaluation from added responsibilities, or a new hire starting salary, or even a reduction in pay proposal to keep from a layoff occurring. What does any of this have to do with our Purposed worKING? In my study of the book of James I was struck by his verses that can help us think through our responsibility and the boundaries we should guard in these situations. James sends a “warning to the rich” that seems extreme in today’s terms but the underlying message is there for all who make or recommend wage decisions. He says in Chapter 5, verses 4-5: “For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The wages you held back cry out against you. The cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.” The verses go on to say that we can become condemners and killers of people who have no power to defend themselves. At the time, I am sure that James may have meant it literally, but we can see today how figuratively we can also condemn and kill the work ethics and spirit of others just as easily. What I hear in these verses is that God does not expect us to not be good at our jobs of leading businesses and making smart and good business choices, but that He does expect us to be fair and much more sensitized to the wages of the “field workers”. I take this to mean that part of our responsibility is to to know where the line of fairness is when it comes to the pay of others and to take the stand when we feel the the line is being crossed by the business. As I reflect on my past experiences, I’m not sure I always used James’ litmus test in finding that line and staying on the right side of it. My prayer today is for those of you who are decision makers for the pay of others that you add a new dimension to the wage authorities that you prepare in that you add your own prayer for discernment and wisdom as you conduct the analysis and make your determination of what is fair. At stake are the spirits, attitudes, loyalty and trust of those who work with you and the judgment of God. So, ask first the higher authority to help you find the line and stay on the right side of it

Reference: James 5:4-5 (New Living Testament)

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