National / International News
It seems as if the whole of Silicon Valley is beset by one giant case of “Keeping up with the Joneses.” First Apple announced a massive new expansion to its Cupertino headquarters. Then Facebook bought up 56 acres for growth in Menlo Park, and now it's Google’s turn.
Google’s plans have rekindled old tensions between an industry that is built on growth and a region that doesn’t want to change.
It’s tempting to look at Apple, Facebook, and Google and say that Silicon Valley would be nowhere without them, but that’s not necessarily the case. First the defense industry moved in, then the semiconductor manufacturers in the 1980s, then the dot-com bubble, and now the mobile internet.
"Silicon Graphics has come and gone, Sun Microsystems has come and gone, and companies stepped in to fill their place," says Mountain View City Councilman Michael Kasperzak. Mountain View is headquarters to some 20,000 Google employees.
Unlike, say, Ford Motor Company a generation ago, companies like Google aren’t necessarily as enmeshed in the local economy. "Google doesn't do anything to generate sales tax, we don't tax the internet, we don't tax searches, we don't tax ad revenue," Kasperzak says.
He notes there are plenty of other benefits that Google does provide, such as leasing city land and providing funds for local schools.
But, unlike previous eras, when a company with the size and clout of Facebook or Google could essentially own a town the size of Mountain View, population 80,000, that is not the case in 2015.
"To call the Silicon Valley communities new ‘company towns’ may be a bit of an overstatement," says Michael Woo, dean of the College of Environmental Design at Cal Poly in Pomona.
"As much as the high-tech companies might want that level of control, they don't have that level of control or influence,” says Woo, “and even some of their own employees as voters, wouldn't necessarily vote to support what might be in the best interest of the companies."
Woo says the Googles and Apples of the world have largely resisted the urge to throw their weight around in local politics. And to its credit, he notes that Google is even talking about ways it might create new affordable housing for its employees.
Eyelashes keep dust out and fend off drying breezes, a study finds. To do that they need to be a very precise length. Extra-long fake eyelashes hurt more than they help.
The three men from Brooklyn were charged with conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. Two of the men had already purchased tickets to Istanbul.
Alpesh Patel released the first-ever set of black emoticons last year. He says Apple still has a long way to go.
TJX — the retail conglomerate including TJMaxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods and Sierra Trading Post — announced in its Q4/full-year earnings report that it will boost pay for its lowest-wage associates to $9 per hour in June. Minimum base pay for full- and part-time workers will rise to $10 per hour for employees with at least six months tenure sometime in 2016. The announcement comes on the heels of similar base-wage-hike plans announced in recent months by Walmart, Starbucks and The Gap.
Orthodox economic theory says this is what should be happening to wages in a tightening labor market. Strong, steady job growth and gradually falling unemployment should make employers compete harder to find and keep workers.
“I think the tightening labor market, combined with public pressure, combined with the bandwagon effect, is driving what we’re seeing,” says Linda Barrington, executive director of Cornell University’s Institute for Compensation Studies.
Barrington points out that if employers were experiencing a significantly tighter labor market though, wages would be rising across the board—at multiple income levels, and in multiple occupations and labor sectors. Instead, inflation-adjusted (real) wages have not risen in recent years. A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute found that real wages fell or were stagnant in 2014 in all income percentiles, except the bottom 10 percent of wage-earners. Wages for that income-decile rose 1.3 percent in 2014, because, EPI says, eighteen states raised their minimum wage above the federal minimum wage, which has been $7.25 per hour since 2009.
Arun Ivatury at the National Employment Law Project believes pressure by labor and consumer advocates is mostly what’s driving these wage increases. But they also make good business sense.
“Part of your business strategy is to have people who work for you who consumers like to interact with, and who represent your business well," says Ivatury. "And you’re going to have to pay a little better, especially as the labor market tightens.”
Disparity in minimum pay between retail and service employers could induce some employees to chase a slightly higher paycheck, which could in turn increase competition for workers, and drive wages higher across service industries. But workers we spoke with were not inclined to switch jobs for a small increment in pay.
“No, I won’t jump on the bandwagon at T.J. Maxx just because they make more,” says Roderick Livingston, a 27-year-old fast-food worker who is employed part-time at both Taco Bell and McDonald’s in St. Petersburg, Florida. He makes the state's minimum wage of $8.05 per hour. “Where I am now I like my job, as far as my manager and everything. I don’t feel like the grass would be greener on the other side. But how come we can’t make $9-an-hour at a fast-food restaurant?”
Livingston is active in the movement pushing for a $15/hour minimum wage for fast-food workers, which has included strikes and other labor actions. He pays child support for two young children, and says he tries to send money to his parents in Georgia when he can.
Lisa Pietro, 57, works 32 to 39 hours per week at a Walmart in Winterhaven, Florida. She earns $8.95 per hour stocking produce, and says the increased take-home pay from Walmart’s planned new minimum wage of $9 per hour will mostly go to pay her taxes. But the increase to $10 per hour in 2016 will make a material difference to her.
“That’s groceries,” she says. Pietro is active in the Our Walmart campaign by labor and consumer groups to push for higher pay and better schedules for Walmart workers.
Pietro says she has little choice about where to work and could not easily chase a higher wage at another retailer. She can’t afford a car or gasoline, she says, so she walks to work at Walmart, 1.5 miles from her home. She says there aren’t other potential employers she could work for, within walking distance of her home.