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Papa John's Manifesto

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Papa John's Manifesto

Recently, statements were attributed to Papa John's regarding its opposition to Obamacare and it was disheartening to learn about the callousness in which the company treats its employees.  There are a variety of political ideologies and views in America, but the company's clamor about having to provide more of its employees with affordable health care touched a nerve that cut across vast swaths of our political spectrum.  This is not a case where people who are too lazy to go out and look for a job seek a government handout to support their idleness.  These employees are not the 47% of the population that allegedly pay no taxes and freeload off the rest of us that Mitt Romney does not care about.  These are members of the 53% who by all accounts pay taxes and are employed.  These are the people that Romney supposedly cares about.  Papa John's employees work hard to make the company profitable so that its millionaire CEO John Schnatter can have a mansion accented with every imaginable luxury (a Louisville-area estate so nice, that even Romney was taken aback by its opulence).  A lot of his employees make around minimum wage and Schnatter is concerned that he might have to raise the cost of pizza eleven-fourteen cents so that they can have access to health care in one of the wealthiest nations on Earth.  With all the deals, specials and coupons that are a hallmark of the franchise pizza industry, most people do not even know how much a full-price pizza from Papa John's costs.  The average consumer would not notice an increase of fourteen cents or care if it meant making health care more accessible for hardworking families.       

This is not a situation of a company with painfully thin profit margins that is struggling to stay afloat, let alone expand.  Papa John's owns or franchises approximately 4,000 restaurants and plans to add another 1,500 in the next six years.  The juggernaut pizza franchise finds the prospect of increasing its number of total locations by nearly 40% to be much more appealing than providing the very people who will make this growth possible with affordable health care. As the company increases its market share, the money funneled to the CEO, executives and large franchise owners through salaries, bonuses and stock options will proliferate; that is the point of expansion.  The money is there, Papa John's simply does not want to use it to provide affordable health care to the backbone of its enterprise.  The company is currently giving away two million free pizzas in a football season promotion.  For further proof, one need only turn to CEO John Schnatter, who proclaimed, "We're not supportive of Obamacare, like most businesses in our industry.  But our business model and economics are about as ideal as you can get for a food company to absorb Obamacare."  The deflection of accountability notwithstanding, this translates into: Our business model is ideally suited for providing affordable health care to our employees, we simply do not want to.  

If required to provide affordable health care to its employees, Papa John's has no intention of absorbing the costs by reducing its profit margins.  It wants no responsibility for the welfare of the work force that makes its continued success a reality.  A lot of these employees are probably living near the poverty line and Papa John's would rather keep them on Medicaid (if they qualify) and pass the burden of providing health services to its hardworking, underpaid employees on to the Government at the taxpayers' expense.  Even more unfortunate, Papa John's most likely leaves employees that do not qualify for Medicaid, even those with young families, to fend for themselves.  Franchise owner Judy Nichols of Texas, suggested that she would rather terminate employees to keep her staff numbers under 50, than provide them with affordable health care.  The solution to this issue is not to demote an employee to part-time or terminate his employment.  The answer is: let him earn it. The last thing people struggling to make ends meet need is to be fired because the government is apparently, albeit slowly, starting to recognize health care to be a fundamental right, similar in nature to K-12 public education.  The callous position of the company appears to be systemic, starting from the CEO and working its way down to the franchise levels.       

Stepping away from Papa John's for the moment, its objectionable position is a microcosm for a broader issue that needs to be addressed. 

Comfortable: The New Standard for the Middle Class

Throughout history, members of the oppressive class have always feared the masses and for good reason.  The power they hold over them is tenuous and often maintained by an illusion of dominance sprinkled with a healthy dose of false promises, idle threats and misinformation. They know they are hopelessly outnumbered and even a strong military state must draw a significant amount of its force from the general population.  This dynamic creates rampant insecurity among the oppressive class; they are aware of their limited ability to withstand an uprising.  One of the most baffling attributes of this phenomenon is the premise that: the masses, collectively, want what the aristocracy has.  This faulty assumption has created untold amounts of grief and suffering.  There is a myriad of theories as to why the oppressing class continues to repeat this mistake, perhaps their lust for power and wealth renders them incapable of viewing the world through the eyes of people not consumed by greed.

 For the most part, the masses do not desire an extravagant lifestyle defined by wealth and excess. Sure, there are exceptions, but the average person simply wants to be comfortable.  He wants to be able to provide his family with adequate food, clothing and respectable shelter.  She wants to shield her kids from the ugliness of destitution that too many children in this wealthy nation have experienced.  Parents want their kids to have a decent education that will allow them to become self-sufficient, contributing members of society.  The standard of living that the common people will accept as comfortable is relatively modest.  For millennia, the oppressive ruling class has failed to realize this simple fact and opted to impose less than desirable living conditions on its subjects.  What constitutes less than desirable living conditions is subjective, but one constant in this power dynamic is: the working class is subjected to a standard of living that is below the respective society's definition of comfortable. 

Although the aristocratic class has historically favored the oppression of the masses, it is an over-generalization to impute this characteristic onto all members of the upper class.  They might be outnumbered by their counterparts, but there are still members of this class who desire to bring fundamental fairness to all levels of our society.  Privileged persons who are not threatened by the numerosity of the masses, chiefly because they have no desire to oppress them.  When referring to the oppressive class it is important to note that not all members of the elite who control the vast majority of wealth and power are members of this class.  For those seeking economic fairness, it is counterproductive to vilify the wealthy outright; within their ranks lay powerful allies, sympathetic to the cause and willing to help. 

There is nothing atypical about an extremely small portion of society accounting for the vast majority of the wealth and power.  This attribute can arguably be considered an immutable characteristic of complex civilizations.  On its face, it appears to be a natural tendency of large societies; almost as natural as the desire to establish a sense of law and order that insulates citizens from the state of nature described by Hobbes.  Even in communistic situations such as the former USSR and China, the greater part of the resources and control remained concentrated among a very small portion of the population, small as in well under one percent.  A true communist regime, as envisioned by Marx, will probably never govern a large political state.  Such a system works best in small, commune-type arrangements and breaks down rapidly when applied outside such parameters.             

Although capitalism is a much more viable economic system, man's inability to tame his greed and lust for power has rendered pure capitalism inoperable.  Capitalism naturally produces uneven results in the sense that wealth and power will not be distributed evenly; it will be concentrated among a very small few.  Rather than enable the working class, the backbone of the economy, to earn a comfortable lifestyle, history has proven that ownership in a pure capitalistic system will create desperation among the wage-earners, forcing them to settle for unsuitable working conditions, inferior compensation and a sub-par quality of life.  This approach makes fiscal operations more profitable for the corporation at the workers' expense.  One does not even need to look into the past for such evidence, many American corporations have active work forces overseas in furtherance of this agenda.       

Capitalism can have a chilling effect on competition and free markets to the detriment of society.  The entire body of antitrust law developed in response to this tendency.  Invariably a company with superior resources and acumen will dominate a market niche or industry to the point that consumers are left with little or no choice.  More likely, a market will have a handful of major actors that can either collude or mirror each other's offerings so closely, that in effect, consumers do not have an alternative mean to a particular service or good.  This exposes consumers to price-gouging, price-fixing, artificial inflation and cripples any leverage that can be asserted through spending habits.  Capitalism works best when a detached entity with sufficient authority can oversee the markets and make adjustments in the interest of fundamental fairness.  

A society's power structure is compromised when the ruling class becomes unduly exploitive.  There is nothing objectionable about exploiting a situation.  Life is full of opportunities that we should take advantage of.  The upper class has every right to exploit the resources of the working class.  The exploitation becomes unjust when wage-earners fail to receive fair compensation for their services and labor.  This equilibrium hinges upon what is determined to be fair compensation.

What constitutes fair compensation is subjective and must be based on the overall wealth and capabilities of a nation.  Fair compensation in a third world and first world nation will be different.  Fair compensation in our society is: the means one needs to live a comfortable life. Not extravagant or luxurious, just comfortable.  Decent living space, quality food, clean water, adequate clothing, affordable healthcare and the ability to reasonably enjoy one's interests.  This level of comfort is not achievable en masse in every country, but it is in the United States.  Fair compensation is a two-way street; people must work and provide competent labor and services in exchange for a comfortable lifestyle.  An issue arises when this option is not made available to those who are willing to work for it.    

Too often, everyday people are precluded from reaching this threshold so that certain members of the controlling class can accumulate excessive wealth.  Excessive wealth is the amount of discretionary resources retained by ownership that prevents a wage-earner from achieving a comfortable standard of living.  It should not be confused with acquiring more money than one could ever need; they are two entirely different concepts.  For example, if an employee needs to earn $40,000 annually in order for his family to live comfortably, and his employer pays him $35,000, the amount of excessive wealth in this equation is $5,000.  A billionaire entrepreneur might have earned her money without accumulating any excessive wealth, whereas the majority of a borderline-millionaire entrepreneur's fortune might consist of excessive wealth.  The determining factor is whether they supplied their respective work forces with fair compensation. Both work forces were exploited, but was the exploitation fair?  That is the question.      

The balance of providing employees with fair compensation while maintaining acceptable profit margins is very achievable.  While many companies only achieve this symmetry with certain segments of their work force(unfortunately, workers with lower skill sets disproportionately absorb the short end of this paradigm), other companies are able to across the board.  When thinking of the latter, companies like Google, Microsoft, GE and Proctor & Gamble come to mind.  Costco Wholesale is a commendable example of a company that seems to make a concerted effort to provide fair compensation to its entire work force in an industry where this is rare; Starbucks is too.  In other words, they apparently care about their employees.            

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Hello, I am submitting a manifesto that I wrote in response to Papa John's comments regarding Obamacare and the overarching issue of affordable health care and entitlement to a livable wage in our country. I hope you publish it. -RWH

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Too many deserving Americans do not have access to... by RW H on Monday, Oct 1, 2012 at 11:55:06 AM
Hi john you have publish such a wonderful article ... by Ramesh Kumar on Tuesday, Oct 2, 2012 at 1:41:00 AM
I had been following this with regards to papa joh... by Papa Johns Menu on Tuesday, Oct 2, 2012 at 8:55:33 PM