Young Professionals of Columbus have the power to raise service sector wages but remain on sidelines



When it comes to “Young Professionals”, Columbus is a mecca of sorts. The Columbus Young Professional Club is the largest YP club in the US with more than 21,000 members. There’s also the Create Columbus Commission, a board of apparently elite young professionals appointed by Mayor Coleman and funded by city taxpayers

Anyone between the ages of 21 to 45 is welcome to join a YP group, but for the most part YP’s have a college degree and a skill that apparently deems them professional.

According to the Mayor’s office, the Create Columbus Commission “strives to make Columbus the nation’s number one place for YPs to live, work, play (and) serves as the community’s foremost thought leader on young professional interests, experiences, and priorities.”

Mayor Coleman’s infatuation with YPs has always been out in open, and while these groups volunteer for non-profits and work to formulate ideas to make the city more livable, the Mayor’s love-affair with YPs has some scratching their heads. Why are young professionals so important to Central Ohio that you pay them for being YP?

“He cares about them a lot, they’re a big deal to the Mayor,” recently said an employee from the Mayor’s Office who refused to offer his name for publication.

This same employee says Mayor Coleman believes some local entrepreneurial YPs will eventually create jobs for the region, but he questions why the Create Columbus Commission awarded several-thousand dollars of city money to local artist’s under-40 so to paint murals in the Short North.

“Does it matter how old the artist is?” wryly asked the employee.

What Mayor Coleman apparently doesn’t care too much about are the tens-of-thousands of local “service sector” workers. He has endorsed a hike to the federal minimum wage, but has never introduced any legislation to increase wages within Columbus’s borders, something Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel did earlier this year for his city.

By and large, service sector employees do mind-numbing work for low wages so the corporation they’re employed by can pay high wages, offer benefits, and job security to YPs who work for the same corporation. Service sector workers also help make profits for their corporations, which then doles out these profits in dividends to shareholders who don’t even lift a finger for the corporation.

For instance, Limited Brands (now called L Brands) has several massive local warehouses where pick-packers, distributors, and forklift drivers, work for $10 to $12 an hour with limited benefits and in some cases the job is seasonal. Across the nation, thousands work in Limited Brands’ 2,700 Victoria Secret and Bath and Body Works stores, some making $8 an hour part-time, which is just a nickel over Ohio’s minimum wage. Both groups of Limited Brand workers get 40 percent off lingerie, however, which of course is manufactured overseas by someone who makes even less pay, and in many cases, far, far less.

Considering that thousands of low-wage employees do most of the heavy lifting, sales and manufacturing for Limited Brands, it’s no surprise the corporation’s annual net profit (the “bottom line”) averages between $100 to $400 million. The Limited Brand has also paid a dividend to shareholders for 159 straight quarters. What’s more, but certainly not least, is that CEO Leslie Wexner takes home $15 million a year, while the CEO’s of Victoria Secrets and Bath and Body Works both make roughly $8 million a year.

Other examples of underpaid local service sector workers include the waiters, waitresses and bartenders employed by Central Ohio’s burgeoning upscale restaurant and bar scene, so popular with YPs. Some of them still make the state’s minimum wage for tipped employees, $3.98 an hour, and made to work weekends late into the night. And when it comes to restaurants, don’t forget the low-paid army that toils away within local fast food franchises.

There are also numerous customer service call centers locally. For example, Gap Inc. has several call centers throughout town that employ hundreds. Again, the pay is low, the benefits are sparse, the hours varied and erratic, and the job could be seasonal, but you do get a discount to buy their overpriced jeans.

As one former Gap Inc. call center employee said to this reporter, “You work, you go home, and you watch TV and do nothing else. Nothing. You can’t afford to do anything making $9 an hour.”

So the question begs to ask Mayor Coleman and the thousands of YPs who work for Limited Brands and other local corporations: “What about the tens-of-thousands of local Young and Old Amateurs? Don’t they deserve a living wage and some sick days?”

Even though they have tremendous clout with the Mayor and other local leaders, YP groups would never rally their troops to force their own corporations to pay a living wage to those who work the hardest for their corporation. Almost all YP groups are allied with their local Chamber of Commerce, which has always fought to keep wages as low as possible so corporations and their shareholders can reap easy money.

But as foreign as it sounds, there are some powerful professionals going to bat for service sector employees in Ohio and the rest of the nation for that matter.

Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown is one of the few Congressmen or women with a record that is pro-service sector. Last year he proposed the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013, and even though bills proposing a national raise are often voted down or fade away in committee, at least Sen. Brown is keeping the debate on the public table.

Sen. Brown’s bill seeks to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour over two years. The bill also proposes the first raise for tipped workers in 20 years, increasing their hourly wage to 70 percent of any minimum wage.

Earlier this year Senate Republicans used a procedural motion called a “cloture” or a “guillotine” to essentially hold Sen. Brown’s bill hostage.

Another group of professionals working to boost the earning power of service sector workers is the non-partisan think-tank Policy Matters Ohio, which has researched what a $10.10 the minimum wage would do for Ohio.

“We estimate over 1 million Ohio workers would get a raise,” said Hannah Halbert of Policy Matters Ohio’s Columbus office. “That would bring about $2.1 billion into Ohio’s economy. And it would have a substantial impact on Ohio’s kids. Right now 23 percent of Ohio’s kids would see their parents get a raise. So 23 percent of Ohio’s kids have at least one parent trying to make it on a minimum wage job.”

Halbert says Ohio’s current minimum wage of $7.95 hasn’t nearly kept pace with inflation or worker productivity.

“A lot of companies have seen a vast increase in productivity,” she says. “If the minimum wage had kept pace with that productivity as it has in years past, such as in 1968 when the minimum wage was at its highpoint, the minimum wage would be $18.75.”

The FreePress did speak with the Columbus Young Professionals Club and asked whether they would ever consider lobbying Mayor Coleman or their own employers to raise the pay of low-wage jobs to a living wage.

The club said while raising low wages would be a good idea, the club steers clear of any political influence.

Nonetheless, the FreePress believes that the power and energy of 21,000 local YPs certainly has the political muscle to convince local corporate and political leadership that one of the best ways to lift any community out of its economic doldrums is to pay a living wage to all workers.

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