This week, Mitt Romney took his presidential campaign overseas to the summer Olympics in London, where it took him all of a few hours to insult his hosts, commit a diplomatic gaffe, and unwittingly draw attention to his and his wife's uber-elitist dressage hobby (or "horse ballet" as Stephen Colbert describes it). The billionaire seems exceedingly comfortable sending American jobs and his personal bank accounts overseas, where they usually receive a warm welcome. But his stiff, patrician demeanor is apparently just as off-putting across the pond as it is at home.
Still, maybe Romney had good reason to want to get the heck out of dodge for a little while, considering that this week thousands of protestors across the U.S. took to the streets demanding an increase in the minimum wage. Those crowds -- in over fifty cities across the country, from Miami to Philadelphia to Sacramento -- included many workers at Bain Capital-owned companies who shared their stories of trying to scrape by on poverty wages.
Lest we forget, Bain Capital is Mitt Romney. It's the company he founded, and it's his many years running Bain that he cites as proof that he will be the guy to create jobs for the one in six Americans struggling with unemployment and underemployment. By now, Bain's history of offshoring jobs is well documented -- but what about the jobs it doesn't outsource?
Turns out they're really crummy. According to a recent report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), many of the fifty largest minimum wage employers in the country are either currently owned or have been owned by Bain Capital in recent years, including:
• #17: Dunkin' Brands, which owns Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin Robbins and is currently owned by Bain Capital. U.S. workforce: 132,000 employees.
• #25: Bloomin' Brands, which owns Outback Steakhouse among other causal-dining restaurant chains and is currently owned by Bain Capital. U.S. workforce: 85,200 employees. Incidentally, this is the same company that is trying to lower the minimum wage in Florida.
• #45: Staples, Inc., for which Romney provided investment funds back in 1985 and served on the board for over a decade. U.S. workforce: 32,991.
• #20: Domino's Pizza, Inc., owned by Bain Capital from 1998-2010. U.S. workforce: 98,220.
• #7: Burger King, acquired by Bain Capital from 2002-2010. U.S. workforce: 191,815.
These five companies alone account for about half a million workers -- workers who get up every day to work for $7.25 an hour or close to it, usually with little or no benefits, in order to help these companies grow so that their profits can be funneled directly into the pockets of Bain Capital investors like Romney.
Romney is trying hard to make the case that he can be counted on to be a "job creator" -- but we should be asking ourselves if these are the kinds of jobs that are good for America. I was able to speak with several Dunkin' Donuts employees in the Chicago area over the past couple of weeks, and what they have to say about their jobs paints a troubling, if not necessarily surprising, picture of what it's like to work for minimum wage. Workers reported being kept at or below 35 hours a week so that the employer doesn't have to provide benefits, being fired for taking sick days, being promised raises that never materialize, and being unable to afford the basic necessities -- like rent and food -- despite working several minimum wage jobs.
This last item is perhaps the most devastating of all. Using the Economic Policy Institute's Basic Family Budget Calculator (and adjusting for inflation), a single parent of two working full-time in Chicago would have to work 112 hours per week just to afford the most basic necessities -- obviously an impossible feat. Even if this minimum wage worker received Medicaid, Food Stamps and Child Care assistance to cover 100% of her health care, food and dependent care expenses, she would still have to work almost 60 hours a week to barely squeak by -- and keep in mind that that's in Illinois, where the minimum wage is a full dollar an hour higher than most other places in the country.
Even though we clearly can't count on Romney to see the importance of raising the minimum wage so that folks who work hard can support their families, it looks like there may be help on the way. On Thursday morning, Rep. George Miller (D-CA), along with over 100 other House Dems, introduced the "Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2012," which proposes to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.80 per hour over three years, and peg it to inflation thereafter. Rep. Miller was accompanied by his colleague Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who introduced the same bill in the Senate.
Sadly, even though most Americans support raising the minimum wage, congressional Republicans will likely do all they can to prevent the legislation from ever coming to a vote. But if we continue to put pressure on our elected officials to do what's right for workers in this country -- through coordinated events such as Tuesday's national day of action -- we might just be able to get millions of Americans the raise they deserve.