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Air Serv, one of these companies, had over $400 million in revenue in 2010. Its CEO, Frank Argenbright, is worth some $300 million, and lives in a $6.8 million home in Sea Island, Georgia—while many of his workers at Newark and JFK airports make less than $8 an hour.
Before founding Air Serv, Argenbright was the CEO of Argenbright Security, which did passenger screenings before the TSA took over—including at two of the three airports from which the 9/11 hijackers departed. He was personally denounced for that (major) screwup, including by disgraced former House majority whip Tom DeLay, who said in 2001, “Argenbright has become a synonym for failure.”
Despite that reputation, he was still able to hustle up $7 million from friends to found Air Serv. He told Forbes that he is “more careful and generous when it comes to dealing with his workforce these days.” If $8 an hour is generous, we’d hate to see stingy.
McDonald’s is a brand virtually synonymous with America, cited as an example of US cultural hegemony around the world. Yet it is known almost as much for its low-wage jobs as it is for its French fries, having spawned the term “McJob,” implying a low-wage, low-skill position.
Remember last year, when the company announced its “National Hiring Day” to fill 50,000 of those $8 an hour jobs? Hundreds of workers showed up to grab those McJobs. Nationwide, McDonald’s is the third-largest low-wage employer after Walmart and Yum! Brands, which owns Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC, employing nearly 860,000 workers. While the rest of the economy (and low-wage workers) are suffering, McD’s has been profitable over the last three years, and famously expanding. It’s got more revenue, profits and cash holdings than before the recession began. According to Business Insider, its CEO/chairman of the board, James A. Skinner, made $7 million in 2011 (he also owns stock in the company worth some $16 million), and its COO/president, Donald Thompson, made $3.3 million.
Business Insider’s Henry Blodget asked earlier this year how Walmart, McDonald’s and Starbucks felt paying their employees so little. Henoted that they could pay employees an additional $5,000 a year out of their operating profits and still make “boatloads of money” but have workers living above the poverty line.
Starbucks is marketing a new coffee blend these days—the “Indivisible” blend, which sells for $14.95 a pound. But there’s a new hook behind the even-more-overpriced coffee (their normal blends sell for $9.95 or so): if you buy it, they’ll donate $5 (the $5 more they’re charging for it) to “Create Jobs for USA.”
The money’s actually going to the Opportunity Finance Network, essentially a microlending consortium that funds small businesses. As Keith Spencer at Dissent noted, the irony is stunning—Starbucks, known for putting small businesses out of business when it rolls into a neighborhood, wants to help small businesses get loans?
And of course, if Starbucks wants to help with the US economy, perhaps it could start by paying its workers more. Its average pay for a barista is about $8.74 an hour, which comes out to about $18,111 a year. In 2006, Starbucks settled with the National Labor Relations Board after attempting to bust a union forming in its New York stores.
Erik Forman, a Starbucks employee and union activist fired and then reinstated after an NLRB complaint, told Josh Eidelson at In These Times, “You’re running around like a chicken with its head cut off, trying to make all these drinks, because the stores are understaffed. So you go home at the end of the day exhausted, and you still can’t pay your bills.”
Starbucks’ chief executive, Howard Schultz, meanwhile, made $65 million in 2011 in salary, stock options and bonuses. His “retention bonus” alone was $12 million. According to the company’s own records, it had a record year in 2011, with revenues of $11.7 billion.
It doesn’t seem like Starbucks needs to convince customers to donate money to create jobs. Instead, it could use some of those record profits to make the jobs it’s already created into good jobs. Maybe then its employees could afford some of that expensive coffee.
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