Dear Sen. Wyden: If you want $15 an hour, then walk the talk.

If Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) really believes the minimum wage across the United States should be $15 an hour, he and his wife should start in their own back yard.

The Strand Bookstore in New York City, which is owned by Sen. Wyden’s wife, Nancy Bass Wyden, doesn’t even pay all of its employees at least $15 an hour.

NOTE (Added 3/1/21): I’ve discovered that the general hourly minimum wage in New York City has been $15 since Dec. 31, 2019. I don’t understand how Glassdoor can show employee wages reported by employees as less than that. This suggests that either the employees are not being truthful in reporting their wages or the Strand is breaking the law)

The Strand’s main site is a massive store, “home of 18 miles of books,” at 828 Broadway in Manhattan.

Based on salary data shared by Strand employees with Glassdoor, a website where current and former employees anonymously review companies and submit their salaries, multiple job categories pay less than an average of $15 an hour. This includes booksellers (ave. hourly pay: $14), visual merchandisers (ave. hourly pay: $14 – $16), sales staff (ave. hourly pay: $12 – $13), sales associates (ave. hourly pay: $12), booksellers (ave. hourly pay: $11 – $12), and web fulfillment staff (ave. hourly pay: $13 – $14). Indeed.com, another website with salary postings, says only 47% or employees who have reported on the site think they are paid fairly by Strand and reviewers give the company a rating of only 2.9 on a scale of 5 in Pay and Benefits.

And these are average hourly wages, meaning some employees probably earn less, even though the hourly workers are unionized, affiliated with UAW Local 2179.

Even with the wages the Strand already pays, in Oct. 2020 Nancy Bass Wyden pleaded for public support in light of the business lost because of the pandemic, saying, “…we are now at a turning point where our business is unsustainable.”

Her employees don’t seem to be behind her. In July 2020, one employee commented on Glassdoor “The Strand brand markets as progressive, but its mere marketing. The business is profitable, but in one of the most expensive cities in the world, the business owner (Nancy Bass-Wyden, wife of Sen. Ron Wyden, who owns the building and rents sections of it out) pays her workers the bare minimum. Equality isn’t overcharging people for pink-totes and rainbow pins. Salaries should live up to slogans. Pay better, be better, do better. Micromanage less.”

All this in a city that has the highest cost of living in the United States, 35% higher than in Portland, OR. In other words, if Sen. Wyden thinks workers across America should be earning a minimum of $15 an hour, workers in New York City should be making quite a bit more.

In the same context, for example, workers earning $15 an hour in Hawaii are in quite a different position than workers earning $15 in Mississippi. That’s because an income of $47,520 in Hawaii has the equivalent purchasing power of an income of $36,480 in Mississippi.

Similar disparities occur when looking at Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs). As the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis pointed out in a recent blog post, a dollar in one city isn’t necessarily the same as a dollar in another: Average per capita personal income nationwide is about $43,996. In terms of purchasing power, the equivalent income in St. Louis, Missouri, is below $40,000 due to the relatively low cost of living. Meanwhile, in comparatively expensive New York, New York, the equivalent income is almost $54,000. In other words, as the cost of living goes up, it takes more dollars to buy the same basket of goods and services.

That’s part of the problem with all this talk from Wyden, other Democrats and some big companies, such as Amazon, about raising the federal minimum wage across the U.S. to $15. “Companies listed on Wall Street may support a much higher minimum wage because it would give them a competitive advantage, but a hike would make it that much harder for Main Street to even continue to exist,” Kevin Kuhlman, vice president of federal government relations for the National Federation of Independent Business, told Roll Call

Of course, if Sen. Wyden wants to set a wage of $15 an hour for members of Congress, we could talk about that.

Satire from The Borowitz ReportAmericans Favor Fifteen Dollars an Hour for CongressAcross the nation, service employees demonstrated their conviction that Congress deserves a maximum hourly wage of fifteen dollars.By Andy Borowitz

Photograph by Pablo Martinez/AP

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