Today's captains of corporate capitalism like to think of themselves not as mere businesspeople, but as modern society's genius "innovators."
Sounds positive... until you ask the key question: Innovation for what purpose? After all, some of society's most inventive minds are flimflammers, Ponzi-schemers, gamers and embezzlers. Sure enough, an inordinate amount of the innovation comes out of corporate suites these days, amounting to shameless schemes to dupe and rip off rank and file workers.
The latest of these is a hustle called "gamification," an attempt by such giants as T-Mobile and Walt Disney to give game-like, "psychological" prizes to employees rather than giving pay raises or cash bonuses. As the honchos of United Airlines learned, however, not everyone bites the corporate bait.
United recently announced a new fun game for employees — rather than giving standard bonus payments this year, bosses were creating a dazzling sweepstakes lottery, with prizes such as luxury cars and $100,000 in cash. But the sizzle quickly fizzled as United's 90,000 workers realized that more than 99 percent of them would get nothing from this big prize scam, which actually would let top executives and big shareholders pocket the bulk of bonus money that was owed to employees. United had hoped the game would create "excitement" among the rank and file, but instead it created resentment. Workers, naturally preferring bonus cash to bogus corporate excitement, rebelled with such fury that United is now reconsidering the switch.
That case aside, however, the push from corporate headquarters to replace real pay with cheap "psychic income" (ranging from good-work badges and thank-you notes from bosses to doling out tickets for a sporting event) is on the rise. Major corporations are even hiring "chief behavioral officers" to analyze reams of personal data on employees to devise non-cash ways to motivate them.
Workplace exploitation is at least as old as the industrial revolution. But rather than using whips and chains to make the assembly lines move ever-faster, today's corporate exploiters use technology, devious work schedules and lobbyists to extract more work from employees — for less pay.
Walmart, for example, has tried to grease its pledge to provide next-day delivery for online customers by having its low-wage workforce use their own time and vehicles to drop off packages as they go home after work. Likewise, McDonald's has imposed a complicated, high-tech ordering and curbside pick-up service that requires existing workers to handle more tasks, with no hike in pay. There's a technical term for such unpaid work requirements: Stealing.
Especially victimized by corporate thieves, however, are about 4.3 million Americans who make up our "tipped workforce." Mostly employed as waitstaff in restaurants — from big chains like IHOP to the most exclusive dining establishments — these workers fall under a grossly unjust category of labor law that allows their employers to pay a miserly minimum wage as low as $2.13 an hour! The rationale is that customers will make-up for this sub-poverty pay by leaving generous tips — a convenient corporate lie refuted by the fact that 12.8 percent of America's tipped workers live in poverty.
Luckily, Trump has intervened to help. Lucky for restaurant owners, that is. Bowing to demands by restaurant industry lobbyists, Trump's labor department has proposed a new rule allowing employers that pay the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour to seize workers tips and use them for any purpose — including fattening their own profits. Paying $2.13 an hour already amounts to a massive wage theft, but now the thievery is to be humongously compounded... and legalized!
Even the most notorious robbers in history would be too ashamed to pull a job this wicked. What we have here is the deterioration of executive ethics to the point that openly gaming and cheating America's workaday majority is considered fair game by the avaricious corporate elites. As America is learning, to its horror, the combination of unbridled corporate greed and abandonment of common ethics in TrumpLandia is turning wickedness into gold.
Populist author, public speaker, and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes The Hightower Lowdown, a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America's ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.