The PJ Tatler

Labor Secretary: 'Pretty Radical' Henry Ford Raised Wages, So Can We

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said this morning that the administration is “working like heck” to raise the federal minimum wage.

“People who work a full-time job shouldn’t have to live in poverty. I was in Newark yesterday, actually in Jersey City meeting with a number of workers who are working at the Newark airport,” Perez told MSNBC. “They are cleaning the planes after people exit, they are handling bags. The only raise they got was when the voters of New Jersey voted a $1 increase in the minimum wage. And everywhere I go around the country, people are working hard and falling further behind and — and that is not America.”

He said the stories they heard there indicate people “don’t want to collect food stamps, they want to be rewarded for work.”

“Thirty percent of bank tellers in America, bank tellers, are on some form of public assistance to the tune of $900 million subsidy. Bank tellers,” he added.

Perez responded to the argument that raising the minimum wage will cost jobs by claiming “the overwhelming weight of the evidence demonstrates that that’s not the case.”

“You know, 100 years ago, Henry Ford did a pretty radical thing. He doubled the wages for people on the assembly line and he did it for a couple of reasons,” he said. “Number one, he had 360 percent attrition at the time. It was hard work. They were paying lousy wages and try running a business when all your employees are leaving. And so he understood that if I want to retain a loyal work force and produce a good product I need to pay them well. And — and he also understood that the people who make my product ought to be able to afford to buy my product.”

“And if we’re gonna grow this economy even further, and you know, we’re moving in the right direction but we’ve got to pick up the pace. Consumption is what it’s about. Putting money in people’s pockets, and that’s what the minimum wage does.”

Perez stressed that it’s a message combined with encouraging union membership. “If you have a union job you’re making on average $950 a week. If you have a nonunion job you’re making $750 a week. So collective bargaining is a big part of how this middle class grew in America and it continues to be an important part of who we are as Americans,” he said.

“You know, the most important family value I can think of is time with your children. And I — when I was in local government, I spent a lot of time trying to encourage parental involvement. And the thing I heard most frequently from parents is how can I get involved when I’m working three jobs to make ends meet?”